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Steve Kassel: Getting the SCV off the grid with the help of HOAs

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: January 6, 2010 9:32 p.m.
Updated: January 7, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Margaret Mead, a much-loved conservationist, once said: "Never doubt that a few committed individuals can change the world.

Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Now that the climate change summit in Copenhagen has ended without a substantial agreement to reduce fossil-fuel consumption, it appears those "few committed individuals" will once again have to be the force for change.

And being the rugged individualists we are here in the Santa Clarita Valley, what better place to start than our own backyard?

So it is not out of character for our community that, following the election last year, two Santa Clarita residents independently came up with ideas to involve local homeowner associations in getting on the environmental bandwagon being touted by most politicians on both sides of the aisle.

SCV Off the Grid was formed by a few committed local individuals bent on saving homeowners money and changing the world.

Local real estate agent Leah Pollack and I started a campaign to get community HOA pools equipped with solar panels.

We also introduced the idea HOAs could be pivotal in creating or supporting large-scale projects to convert homes to solar, wind and watershed projects by buying in bulk and lowering the costs to the homeowner.

Or why not place hundreds of solar panels on south-facing hillsides, carports and complex roofs, farm the energy and sell it back to the power company? This would reduce association fees for individual owners.

Current law does not allow for energy buy-back yet, but discussion in Sacramento continues about changing the law to allow for buy back of energy.

Such decentralized energy distribution would have the added advantage of eliminating the need for those huge, ugly high-power lines.

If such smaller projects can be built, like the telephone co-ops of the early 1900s, each community could be empowered to advance technology and how it is interfaced with and changes culture.

The way we think about energy and its control would make a powerful shift.

Solar is only one piece of the pie. Retrofitting homes to newer, energy-saving air-conditioning units could also save homeowners money if done en masse.

Neighborhood energy audits, public education and watershed conservation projects, as well as wind power, can be initiated.

For almost a year now, SCV Off the Grid has promoted awareness and implementation of large-scale retrofits for solar, wind and watershed technologies in the Santa Clarita Valley to support future marketability of older homes in the area.

Without such improvements, older homes may have trouble competing in sales in the market with newer, more energy efficient models.

New developments built from the "ground-up" will benefit more from the "sky-down" and may include eco-amenities for sun, wind and water usefulness and it would be important for older home developments to retrofit, not only for environmental reasons, but for saving in monthly energy costs and to be able to compete in the real estate market in future years.

In the last year, presentations have been made to both HOAs and town councils. During this process, it became clear a unified set of standards for energy improvements such as solar panels, small wind turbines and drought-tolerant landscaping (which saves energy by the electricity needed to pump the water to households) needed to be developed.

Associations and town councils are worried about the aesthetic look of their neighborhood. While this is of course a legitimate concern, moving forward to energy independence is also of vital importance.

So SCV Off the Grid wants to issue a New Year's challenge to the city and local HOAs. Why not be the first community in the Santa Clarita Valley to get "off the grid?"

We are looking for an HOA to apply to be the first community to participate in the pilot project of 100 homes or more retrofitting to solar at a low price because we will be buying at a bulk rate.

We urge the city of Santa Clarita to partner with us in this effort.

For future meetings or to arrange a PowerPoint presentation for your community, please visit www.SCVOfftheGrid.com, or call Leah Pollack at (661) 309-3195 or Steve Kassel at (661) 259-3704.

Steve Kassel is a Stevenson Ranch resident and co-founder of SCV Off the Grid. He can be reached at s@kassel.us. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.

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