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The Path to a More Sustainable Life

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There is a battle going on in California this election season that everyone who is involved in the green energy business should be aware of. 

I’m not talking about Meg Whitman vs. Jerry Brown for Governor … I’m talking about Proposition 23 which is on the ballot for California voters to decide next week.  If passed, this proposition would effectively repeal California’s landmark clean energy and clean air law passed four years ago and signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

AB32 was a pioneering law designed to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Thanks to AB32, tens of thousands of jobs have been created and California’s “green economy” is one of the most robust sectors in the state. Since the late 1960s, California has led the nation in environmental regulation and with Congress paralyzed on climate legislation, many feel California is the best hope for a cleaner future.  That’s why defeating this proposition is important to all of us in America who care about the environment!

AB32 caps greenhouse gas emissions at power plants and other big pollution sources in the state and is why the backers of Prop 23 want to kill it.  The primary funders of Prop 23 are Valero Energy and Tesoro Corp., Texas oil companies who are among the nation’s biggest polluters, and their California oil refineries are among the top ten polluters in the state. [According to the LA Times, Valero and Tesoro are San Antonio-based oil companies that fronted the money to get Proposition 23 on the ballot and have together contributed nearly $5.6 million to this campaign.]

These oil companies are promoting a misleading argument that AB32 will deter job growth at a critical moment in the state’s economic recovery.  If passed, Prop 23 would suspend AB32 until the state’s unemployment rate falls to 5.5% or below for four consecutive quarters. Backers insist that this wouldn’t negate the law because the rate is achievable — yet a global recession, which had nothing to do with California’s environmental standards, caused statewide unemployment to skyrocket to 12.4% and it will take many years to recover from such a severe economic blow.

Because meeting AB32’s 2020 deadline requires immediate action, delaying implementation by even a year could render its goal impossible. This concerns me and other greenies who are investing billions of dollars in renewable power plants and research into clean-energy alternatives to air polluting fossil fuel industry.

By the way – Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman have both come out against this proposition.  See Sacramento Bee article on Whitman’s new position http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2010/09/whitman-to-vote-against-propos.html

So I urge my Cali brothers and sisters to vote NO on Proposition 23.  The entire nation is watching.


One of the very first people I met in the solar business here in Portland Oregon was Sean Larkin of SolarCity.  In February 2008 we invited several local solar contractors out to the house to give us a quote for solar electric.  SolarCity had just opened their doors in the Portland area and Sean was the first to show up.  He seemed like an earnest fellow and I appreciated his approach, but he was the first to tell us our (rather expansive) rooftop was not a candidate for residential solar.  We hadn’t figured on that!

Sean got up on the roof above the garage, facing south, looked into his Solmetric SunEye and took his readings of four spots (skylines) to get an average of the solar access available.  With some disappointment in his voice Sean told us – not enough TSRF (Total Solar Resource Fraction) to qualify for the Energy Trust rebate program – making the installation much more expensive out of pocket.  He suggested we look at the poolhouse roof as an option and that is what we ultimately did.  In the end we didn’t go with SolarCity, but our decision to hire another solar contractor was in no way a reflection on Sean, or SolarCity for that matter.

Living in the trees and with solar at the same time is a challenge for a great many of us in the southwest part of town

Since we first met over two years ago Sean and SolarCity have been busy and they’ve grown right along with the area’s demand for residential solar.  To their credit they’ve been the chosen contractor for Solarize Northeast Portland, Solar Beaverton, and one of two installers chosen for the new Solarize Salem project.  http://solarizesalem.org/solarize-salem-selects-contractors/  Considered an “outsider” by local contractors because they are headquarted in Foster City California, they’ve nonetheless integrated themselves into the burgeoning solar landscape and become one of the mover-shakers of residential solar in the Willamette Valley.  A lot of this success lays squarely on Sean Larkin and his regional director, Rob LaVigne, both Oregonians who love the solar business.  http://www.solarcity.com/

I mention this because SolarCity announced it has moved into new Portland offices and is hosting an open house tomorrow September 29th to celebrate their expansion … and I’ve been invited.  Since SolarCity began in Oregon (2008) they’ve been able to install residential solar electric with averages of 40-50 per month.  This is impressive!  Rob LaVigne says they now have five crews operating in the region and he expects to add two to three more in the coming quarter.  They’ve added jobs (22 so far) in an economic environment that has been eliminating jobs and that is something to celebrate right there.  I hope some of you will join me at this event.  The details are as follows …

It was a joyous occasion!

Noriko and I did something very different yesterday afternoon and thought we’d share it with solarflareblog.com readers.  We were lucky enough to be invited to the Dunthorpe home of the Consulate General of Japan to honor a man that I look up to for inspiration – Mr. Junki Yoshida. This was his day and we were joined by many others to witness Junki receive the prestigious Foreign Minister’s Commendation award bestowed upon him by the country of Japan.  It was a special moment and we were honored to be here.

Consul General of Japan Okabe and Oregon Governor Kulongoski introduce Junki Yoshida

The Japanese government awarded local businessman Junki Yoshida for nurturing Oregon-Japan relations.  This award is given each year to individuals and groups worldwide for outstanding contributions to the friendly relationship and mutual understanding between Japan and their countries. Yoshida, chairman and president of the Yoshida Group, was praised for activities such as serving as an adviser to the Oregon governor, serving as a Port of Portland commissioner, commissioner of the Oregon Economic and Community Development Commission, and as a board member of the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Governor Kitzhaber takes a break from campaigning to honor Junki

Introducing Junki was the Consul General of Japan, Takanichi Okabe, and speaking at this event were the likes of two Oregon governors – current Governor Ted Kulongoski and the past-and-future Governor John Kitzhaber. The gathering was impressive and included representatives from all walks of life including local and state politics, business, philanthropy, culture, and education, with smatterings of long-time friends and family amongst new acquaintances.

We are in the later category.

The first time I recall meeting Junki Yoshida was when he was handling out samples of his Yoshida’s Original Gourmet Sauce at a Portland area Costco. This was many years ago of course. Yoshida started selling his sauce at Costco when there were only two stores and the companies grew together. Today Junki’s products are sold worldwide and he is a multi-millionaire who controls the Yoshida Group which is a conglomerate comprised of 18 diverse companies.

Junki humbly accepts his award while wife Linda looks on

Around these parts Yoshida’s rages-to-riches story is well chronicled. Based on a “secret family recipe” for a teriyaki-style gourmet marinade, the Yoshida Group originated from the humble beginnings of Junki and Linda Yoshida’s kitchen more than 20 years ago.  The success of the company has permitted Junki to give back to his community through generous support of local sponsorships such as those mentioned above.

(L) Noriko, Junki, Juno and Tomoko

I wasn’t surprised to see representatives of solar businesses and some mover-shakers from the local sustainability community at this event.

Yoshida recently hired Inspec Group and Sanyo Solar to install 800 solar photovoltaic panels at his headquarters on NE Sacramento Street in Portland.  

I’ll soon be writing an article about this impressive solar array and Yoshida’s embrace of renewable energy for the Solar Oregon Newsletter. 

Congratulations Junki, you certainly have earned and clearly deserve the respect you received from Japan and America!  We both claim you … to our credit.


9th Annual BIG! Home Tour and Info Fair

Tickets are still on sale for the City of Portland’s 9th Annual Build It Green! Home Tour and Information Fair on this Saturday, September 25.  This annual event in Portland is a fantastic way to learn about the latest, greatest, and most inspirational things happening in green building in the Rose City. A variety of green and sustainable practices can be explored by visiting several locations throughout the Portland metro area.  This year’s tour features twenty-one green remodels and new homes, Portland’s first-ever permitted straw bale house, and a Victorian home that received energy-saving upgrades from the Clean Energy Works Portland program (www.cleanenergyworksportland.org).Many of the homes and affordable housing include solar panels, ecoroofs, rainwater harvesting, natural landscaping, water and energy conservation, reused building materials, alternative construction techniques, small footprints and much more.  Homeowners and contractors will be available to share their personal experiences and to answer questions. Tickets are available at Ecohaus Portland (cash only) or online. 

  • $15 Adults
  • $10 car free/students/honored citizens
  • Free for children 14 and under

Information Fair: 3 p.m. – 7 pm

 Hosted by Ecohaus, 819 SE Taylor Street, Portland

The Home Tour ends with a fun, resource-rich Information Fair in the Ecohaus parking lot! Enjoy regular & veggie-dogs from Hot Dog Ernie, and music by the Wicky Pickers! Taste free beer samples from Hopworks Brewery!  See green building product demos and visit exhibitors like Solar Oregon and Portland Water Bureau.  

Presented by the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) and sponsored by Metro, Energy Trust of Oregon, Solar Oregon, Oregon Home magazine, and City of Portland Bureaus of Environmental Services (BES), Development Services and Water Bureau.

Visit: http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/bigtourpreview for home previews and information

For more info about this event visit www.portlandonline.com/bps/builditgreen or




Now I know how Lewis and Clark felt.  If you’re from the Pacific Northwest you know the story; in the winter of 1805-06 the L&C expedition team was stuck along the Oregon coast at Fort Clatsop (Astoria Oregon) huddled down for months because of incessant rains and sickness. It certainly wasn’t their favorite experience as it rained every day but 12 of the 106 days they were camped at the Fort. That seems all too familiar to those of us living in the Pac NW in 2010 where it seems like it will never stop raining on our parade.

Normally, September in Oregon has some of the best weather in the entire country.  It is my favorite time of year and why we chose the September 18 date for our outside/backyard solar celebration. It was predicated on the norm – unfortunately this isn’t a normal year and Saturday’s showers dumped 0.97 inches of rain on Portland breaking the daily rainfall record for the date. It’s the second time in a week and a half that a downpour has led to a broken record. If active storm fronts continue to persist, this will easily be one of the wettest Septembers on record for Portland. So far, we’re over two inches ahead of schedule and we’ve got another ten days to go in the month.

For two weeks we anxiously watched the weather forecasts and prayed for the sun to shine.  On Wednesday, September 15, I polled many of the event sponsors and got a mixed reaction on how to proceed.  About half replied, “We’re Oregonians so we’re used to rain and this won’t stop people from attending”, while the other half said “Cancel it because many people simply won’t show up for an outdoor event during a thunderstorm.”  In the past, when faced with similar circumstances, we bit the bullet and decided … yeah, we are Oregonians, so full steam ahead, but then when the squall hit and put a damper on the entire event, we regretted being so hardy.  Too much effort, time and money spent for result. We didn’t want to keep making this same mistake, so we cancelled our solar celebration on Thursday, September 16.

In the end, it was the right decision. For those of you that weren’t on the invite list, this is the message we sent out to everyone via Evite:

 “Hello friends and neighbors: We’ve been very pleased that so many of you signed up for this solar open house. Alas, we have decided to reschedule this event and we’re sorry for short notice, but we’ve been following the forecast and it looks like about the time of the event on Saturday, the weather is expected to be most unforgiving especially for an outdoor / backyard event.

We usually don’t let the rain stop us, but this time …

Okay, it’s not quite the “perfect storm” but this was supposed to be a “Shine” event – not a rain or shine event! Solar works fine in the rain, but people often don’t, so we’re rescheduling for later in the fall at a more suitable venue. This is already in the works. We’ll get back in touch with you regarding the details. Thank you all for your understanding.”
~ Mac & Noriko
Of course some ardent solar advocates didn’t want us to cancel because they thought it might bring some negativity on the idea of using solar energy in such a climate.  This simply isn’t the case.  Our solar system hummed right along about 2/3 of the day until late afternoon/early evening when it began raining cats ‘n dogs.
No, it was the attendees I was concerned about as I visualized a hundred people huddled miserably under blue tarps and expensive rental canopies bitching about the weather.  I don’t think we’d have achieved the same good-spirited feeling of COMMUNITY and celebration of shine that I was counting on.  So now we’re working with SWNI, Mr. Sun Solar, City of Portland, SolarWorld and others to reschedule and modify this event because we still want to celebrate our achievement of installing 450+kw of residential solar in southwest Portland.

We’re still singing in the rain!

In the meantime, like our buddies Lewis & Clark, we are hardy pioneers and will move forward on our expedition to charting a new course for energy policy and for solar energy generation in America.  The rains will not dampen our enthusiasm.  Hey, everyone knows you can’t keep a real Trailblazer down for long.

Hi – Ho!!