Opinion: Green Light

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C’mon, Laguna! Downey Leads Us on Solar Power!

By Tom Osborne

Eons ago, I grew up in Downey, a bedroom community 40 minutes south of downtown Los Angeles on Interstate 5. My high school diploma was awarded by Earl Warren High School in Downey. Shortly after I graduated in 1960, the city’s school board stripped the name “Earl” off the school’s name because of opposition to the former Republican governor’s/Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court’s stand for school racial integration via busing. Earl Warren was an outstanding California governor and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice by any metrics, yet he was considered way too liberal for Downey folks, some of whom put up posters calling for his impeachment. Other posters in town called for pulling the United States out of the United Nations.

In my Downey years, the largely white, middle-class city showed no inkling of progressive policies. No environmental awareness or concerns.  

So, imagine my shock when the other day, in researching a chapter in the book I’m writing, I came across an article in The Downey Patriot newspaper announcing, “Downey expects to save millions with solar panels.” This must be a spoof or joke, I thought.  

Then I looked below that caption and saw a photo of the Downey police chief, the mayor and a city councilwoman breaking ground, with shovels in hand and a pile of dirt at their feet, on the city’s solar program. I read further, while still glancing up to look at the photo in disbelief. Yes, this was really happening.

According to the article: “The city approved a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Onyx Development Group in August last year [2021]. It calls for the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery energy storage systems at City Hall, the Downey Police Department building, Downey City Library, Downey Theatre, the Columbia Memorial Space Center and the Barbara J. Riley Senior Center.”

There’s more. Downey officials estimated the solar project would provide a net savings of $150,000 in the first year, $1 million over five years, and $10 million over the 25-year term of the PPA. The reduction in vehicular emissions will be equivalent to carbon sequestration from 2,426 acres of trees in one year. The city’s mayor at the time the agreement was finalized, Claudia M. Frometa, justifiably described the solar project as “historical.”  

Now, to me, my city of Laguna Beach has provided everything Downey could not. Our city’s politics have been moderately progressive for the most part, we strongly support environmental protections for our coast and open space, and culturally, the arts flourish here. Isn’t it odd that Downey has surpassed Laguna in solarizing? Had I not stumbled on the article in The Downey Patriot, I never would have believed such a thing was possible.  

Well, what inferences do I draw from such unexpected news? I ask our City Hall to pick up the pace on going solar on our public buildings. What needs to happen to get it done? When our city installs solar panels, that action will set an example and send a message to residents to do likewise. Our school district seems to be moving in this direction.

Beyond going solar, I applaud our city’s updating our Climate Protection Action Plan. Sadly, only a half dozen or so Orange County cities even have climate action plans. Still, I’ve not seen much progress in Laguna participating in the Orange County Power Authority to deliver affordable, clean energy to our residents. A big thanks to councilmembers George Weiss and Alex Rounaghi for staying on this matter.

Meanwhile, let’s catch up with Downey on going solar! Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to the city where I grew up in taking such a wise and timely step for clean energy.

Tom Osborne is an environmental historian. With his wife, Ginger, he co-leads the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for putting a price on carbon and rebating the proceeds to taxpaying households. [email protected]

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1 COMMENT

  1. C’mon, Laguna! It’s time to switch to all-electric homes.

    Why, in a town where very expensive homes are built, does City Hall turn a blind eye to what we all know is coming? Does anyone think the State of California won’t outlaw natural gas for new construction and major remodels? Does anyone think there won’t be a massive battle down at City Hall to stop this? The city should start NOW on a project to promote all-electric homes in Laguna.

    To push forward this climate change mitigator both the wealthy and everyone else in Laguna Beach will need to sacrifice something and the most expensive of these homes could easily switch to all electric. Sadly, in all of the Design Review Board submissions I studied in preparation for my own submission, I never saw a proposal that excluded natural gas. Am I the only one to go all-electric?

    In addition, as I wrote before in an earlier comment, the bureaucratic infrastructure simply lacks the awareness of electric homes. I had to repeatedly remind mechanical engineers, plancheck technicians and contractors that I have removed the gas line from my property. The pushback I received when I mentioned I am not reinstalling natural gas was surprising. From DRB members to engineers I was advised that all-electric would be much more expensive, but it turns out it’s much less expensive given that I have to install solar power in accordance with California state rules and heat pump technology is now so advanced.

    As much as I or anyone else, intending to build a home in Laguna, doesn’t want more rules and regulations, a “no new gas“ rule is one rule I would welcome. Plus, I’m looking forward to leaving all that indoor natural gas pollution behind.

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