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The Path to a More Sustainable Life

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“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.” ~ Joyce Kilmer

A storm blew through our region last night, and man, it was windy. It was the typical wet ‘n wild pacific storm track that we get in the Northwest this time of year. I do love the Fall – college football season of course – but it’s nature’s changing colors, filtered light, and the chill in the air I appreciate the most.

Southwest Arnold Street – Portland Oregon

We live on Arnold Street, a scenic place of creeks, trees, moss, wildlife, and no sidewalks. In times past, our
neighborhood was considered the woods just outside of town, although we’re just seven miles from downtown. I’ve seen data that shows Arnold Creek as the most canopied neighborhood in all of Portland.
The street itself parallels a stream that bears its name and it runs through a dense forest until it spills into Tryon Creek SP (640 acres) which is at one end of our street. The neighborhood butts up against Mountain Park, so we have elevation and hills to contend with, and our house is on a slope surrounded by tall evergreen trees of all kinds. We feel fortunate to live here, except on a day like today. In the aftermath of this storm, our neighborhood is a disaster with broken tree limbs, downed power lines, tree leaves and debris scattered everywhere.

For rooftop solar collection, this is an especially difficult time in the Pac Northwest. Trees, hills, shade, and storms are enemies of solar efficiency, but even without those things, solar resource is something we sorely lack in the Willamette Valley this time of year. Last winter I lamented and wrote a piece called Winter is a time of doubt http://solarflareblog.com/?p=1772

Our solar panels needed cleaning after the storm

It is common knowledge that when choosing a site for solar collection, one must consider sites with minimal tree coverage and free from shadowing by chimneys, dormers, power lines, structures or hills. A professional solar contractor will conduct an assessment and locate the best solar collection site on your property, but since we live in a forest-like setting, this was a difficult proposition. However, we sited our solar array in a place that allowed for over 75% total solar resource fraction (TSRF) [required by the Energy Trust of Oregon for their solar rebate program]; which is a small building in the backyard unattached from our main residence where we placed our 20 Sanyo HIT solar modules.

It’s important to keep panels gleaming for maximum electrical output. Dirty panels reduce efficiency.

Tree debris, pollution, dust, tree sap, pollen, soot and other fine particles, build up an opaque layer of grime on the panels. Even bird droppings can significantly reduce the power output by shading the silicon cells under the protective glass layer. In places where there is abundant rainfall, solar panels require relatively little cleaning or maintenance. In fact, I’ve hosed off our solar array only four times over the past two years. See Keep ‘em cleanhttp://solarflareblog.com/?p=1079.

In colder climates solar electric modules tend to self-clear snow and most dirt and grime is removed by the melting snow or rain. In the Southwest region of America, it rains so infrequently that this just isn’t an option. Besides, the desert dust mixes with the oils and dirt on the road then is picked up by the winds and deposited on residential rooftops. So, to clean requires more maintenance and in many cases a biodegradable “earth friendly” detergent is used to remove the oil-soaked grime from the panels.

I’ve never used a cleaning detergent. I simply spray off our panels with a garden hose, which takes only about six minutes from start to finish [including the time it takes to clean out the rain gutters!]

I’m careful to spray under the modules to prevent debris from accumulating as it can reduce airflow and might cause water to back up in a severe rainstorm.  I was also sure to spray the trough – the bottom side of the panel – where pine needles and grime tend to gather. I didn’t even need to use the soft brush this time.

Be careful!

Extreme caution should always be taken when on a roof or a
ladder. Consider hiring a professional service to perform regular cleaning if
your home is multiple stories, or if you cannot use a hose from a distance more
than 50 feet. Use a soft brush on a pole so that there’s no chance the panels will be damaged by any weight being placed on them. Although the tempered glass surface of a module is quite durable, it will break if you walk on it. Any crack in a tempered glass usually requires replacement of the entire module … and this is something you don’t want.

Even in paradise trees shed debris – look out for palm fronds!

Why should I clean my solar panels … I thought they’re “maintenance free”?

You paid good money for this system and you want maximum output of course. Dust, bird droppings, tree debris and the like can accumulate, thereby reducing module efficiency by 20% or more. The only maintenance most require is a semi-annual washing. For regular dust accumulations, you can simply hose the modules off, but if there’s significant accumulation of tree sap or other residue, cleaning with a sponge or squeegee, using a mild soap and water solution, may be required.

Will cleaning my solar panels invalidate my warranty?

No, just the opposite, regular maintenance of your solar panels will protect your warranty and is recommended by the manufacturer. Most solar electric (PV) modules are guaranteed for 25 years and regular cleaning will keep your warranty valid.

Is getting my solar panels cleaned by a professional expensive?

Pricing is based on the size of your system, accessibility to your solar panels, water source and power. For most residential applications the one-time cost is between $40-$60, however many solar contractors offer discounts for quarterly or monthly cleaning contracts, which is not a bad deal if you live in a dusty region of the country.

I love trees and solar power ... they are nature's gifts!


by Joyce Kilmer  (1886–1918)

 I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest, against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

 A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to

 A tree that may in summer wear, a nest of robins in her

 Upon whose bosom snow has lain; who intimately lives with

 Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a




Opening Day * Dallas Convention Center 

SPI 2011 – Dallas, Texas Oct 17-20

I don’t much care for Texas, never have, other than that cultural oasis they call Austin, there isn’t much to like really. Therefore, I wasn’t crazy about attending the Solar Power International (SPI) Conference this year because it is being hosted in Dallas. I went anyway as it is an uncertain time to be in the solar business, I wanted to know what is really going on, and I needed to be with my peeps.  


A representative from Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) one of the conference sponsor/organizers told me that Rhone Resch, President and CEO, invited Governor Rick Perry to attend the conference to welcome twenty thousand plus visitors to Texas.  [Years past, when the SPI was held in California, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger always found the time to welcome attendees to the conference and to his golden state.]  John Stanton (SolarCity) told one session audience that his CEO, Landon Rive, visited Gov. Perry personally to urge his participation; but to no avail, and in the end Perry is a no-show.    

Downtown Dallas

Gov. Perry must be smarter than he appears, because he didn’t bite the hand that feeds him, namely the massive oil and gas industry. For some strange reason, Perry just can’t seem to find a way to support both – Texas’ fossil-fueled economic engine and solar power – and I just don’t understand that?!    

Solar supporter!

Is the little engine that could (the solar business – representing 1% of U.S. energy mix) really be threatening the big, bad, billions of the fossil fuel industry here on its own turf?    

If so, then the solar business has arrived!     

State of Solar Roundtable including Arno Harris, Recurrent Energy, and Barry Cinnamon, Westinghouse Solar

I like the experience of registering at an international industry conference like SPI. I look at the official conference program guide and glance at the main sessions and panels, verify times, and then attack the exhibitor list with a vengeance.  I find out who’s here and who’s not. That is very telling. The market is in chaos and competition is stiffening, and what may have once been a collaborative industry in its infancy, is now dog-eat-dog, especially for the low margin businesses     

As I made my list of booths to visit, I realized how many are Chinese companies. This shouldn’t surprise, as this is indicative of the real-world global solar industry. China is fully committed to it, especially as an export business, and we’re clearly not. And, because of the recent failures of Solyndra and Evergreen Solar, U.S. government investment in solar is being lauded as the thing NOT to do. Most of this noise comes from the media, national political circus, and the oil & gas companies, but this concern is also shared by millions of Americans.  More on this later.

First Impressions    

Everything is BIG in Texas – including the carbon footprint

The Dallas Convention Center is a sprawling concrete edifice and not much on aesthetics. Inside the building, it takes about 20 minutes to walk from end-to-end, and I’d say the exhibit floor held the largest number of booths ever for SPI North America.  I haven’t seen the official attendance, but my guess is more exhibitors, and fewer conference attendees, this year than last.    

More of a Latin flavor at this show with Solar Mexico signs, South American company logos, and Spanish being spoken all over the exhibit floor.  This makes sense – Texas location. I ran into a guy from Iquitos, Peru who I had met in China earlier this year, his name is Hector Soto Arrue’ and he is Gerente General of PROENERGY AMAZON.  It was interesting talking with him about his dream of bringing distributed solar to the Amazon. 
It is hard not to notice the growing presence of some of the largest U.S. corporations now in the solar industry.  Some examples from the exhibit floor:  
  •  Dow Corning – Solar Solutions
  • General Electric – GE Energy
  • DuPont – Photovoltaic Solutions 

Celebrity Sightings    

Hollywood Stars Larry & Matt

 Larry Hagman, known for his role as J.R. Ewing the oil baron on the “Dallas” television show of yesteryear, is now a spokesman for SolarWorld and was seen hanging out at their booth with Matthew Lind, who is an account manager for commercial sales.    

Environmentalist and actor Ed Begley, Jr. of “Living with Ed” fame is a featured guest at the Sanyo booth.     

Trends & Big Announcements    

  • The Solar Foundation 2011 Jobs Report was published and released at the conference. 
  • Leasing programs are booming and will comprise half the residential market in the coming year.
  • The only product in short supply is credit. Expect financial institutions to soak up a larger piece of the solar profit pie.
  • Utility-scale solar developers are exploring outside of the Southwest, and are moving away from the multi-hundred megawatt (MW) systems in favor of systems in the 10-MW to 30-MW range.
  • SunEdison, a large scale solar developer owned by MEMC, is aggressively moving into the residential solar market.  Same for First Solar.
  • The Solyndra stink is difficult to scrub off – like a skunk spray … however, political and legal maneuvering isn’t affecting the global market: installations will double, module production will quadruple, driving prices ever lower. It is assumed that most players will make money, except for solar module makers.
  • As the module price war intensifies and margins shrink, many module manufacturers are diversifying into additional products and services: BOS, leasing, project development, etc… Horizontal integration now looks safer than vertical integration. [Hey, Ocean Yuan, Grape Solar, might have been right all along!]
  • Molten Salt systems are coming to drive down the cost of Concentrated Solar Power.

  • Price Break!  Sun Electronics Int. announced the lowest price/watt for solar energy … ever.  Their solar module pricing at $1.00/watt is the first time in solar history we’ve seen a price this low.  It came a lot sooner than most were prepared for and is a harbinger for the future, for both good and bad, of the global solar business.  Buyer beware, I’m thinking these might be cast-offs, so check it out at www.sunelec.com.

 Solar Jobs: Real and Growing    

The Solar Foundation 2011 Jobs Report    

In the political realm and in the media, there are questions being raised regarding growth of “green jobs” in America.  While I know little about other RE markets and their impact on jobs, I do know that there is solid data about the U.S. solar market supporting the proclamation that solar companies employ over 100,000+ workers in America. This was verified by the publication of the National Solar Jobs Census  which was presented at this conference by The Solar Foundation, SEIA, and NREL/DOE. As of August 2011, the National Solar Jobs Census 2011 identified more than 17,198 solar employment sites with 100,237 jobs, a growth rate of 6.8 percent.    

If this data is accurate there is good growth in the solar market sector and it is bucking the employment trend in America.  Overall employment in the sector was up 18-36% at the end of 2010. Solar (PV) Installers grew 51-66% and electricians 42-55% as compared to 2009. The numbers flux because not every job is “solar-specific” … that is to say some are combo-jobs for large businesses (like developers, general contractors, electrical firms), so the employee may not be working solely on a solar project.  Of course, 100K is very small when compared to 177 million jobs in USA, but it is important to note that it is the fastest growing energy segment.     

Hype Factor  Thousands of people are now being trained, or are considering training, for green jobs, but many still cannot find a paying job. This causes frustration in the work force, especially for the unemployed or underemployed and there is a backlash as many people ask …“where are all of these green jobs?”     

People who casually follow the headlines are bombarded by reports of “explosive green job creation” in a down economy, but they don’t see much evidence to support this, so they consider it so much hype.  In fact, it is both … a reality (jobs are being created in solar) and hype (not as much as was/is being reported, projected, expected or promoted.    

Azuray Technologies – an Oregon company

Oregon is doing better than most and our solar energy industry employs more than 3,300 workers, making it the nation’s eighth biggest state for solar jobs (tied with Texas), according to this new study by The Solar Foundation. 

PV Tracker – an Oregon company

Perhaps more noteworthy is how much Oregon’s solar workforce has grown in one year. Our solar industry was identified as having just 872 jobs in the 2010 census, (which we all knew was too low!) and it has grown 284% to 3,346 across 545 different employers, ranking it eighth overall and among the six fastest growing markets for solar employment.    

Naturally, sunny California topped the list by a sizable margin. Here’s the breakdown of the top 10 states for solar jobs:    

  • California – 25,575 solar jobs
  • Colorado – 6,186
  • Arizona – 4,786
  • Pennsylvania – 4,703
  • New York – 4,279
  • Florida – 4,224
  • Texas – 3,346
  • Oregon – 3,346
  • New Jersey – 2,871
  • Massachusetts – 2,395

Contrast this information with the fact that the fossil fuel industry is shedding jobs every year, not creating them. The oil industry is down -2% in employment while their prices and profits are ever-increasing. I’m told they’ve lost 11,000 jobs and the coal industry now only has about 60,000 jobs total in the U.S..  (*Warning, I hadn’t fact-checked this data at the time of this posting.)

2010 was a rollercoaster of a ride, but it was a memorable year for us here at naturehouse that’s for sure!  In order to look back at some of the “sustainability” activities we undertook this past year, thought I’d do a picture year-in-review and save you all that reading.  Enjoy the eye-candy.   

The year began with my own personal commitment to furthering the cause for solar power.  I fully embraced my relationship with Solar Oregon and became a Solar Oregon “Solar Ambassador”.   

In this role of solar advocate and super volunteer, I represented the organization at public and private events; taught basic residential solar courses and participated in other educational workshops; participated on local resdential solarize projects; and wrote a number of blog posts and newsletter articles about all of the above.  This year I’ve done over 100 posts most on the topics of solar and sustainability.

Markus Stoffel and myself represent on Earth Day

Working at the Energy Trust's "Better Living Show"


Noriko went to Shanghai, China ... next year is my turn

I went to John Day, Oregon (in middle of July!) for SOLWEST

Did some remodeling and added a SolaTube - it works great!

I conducted a Solarize Portland workshop on Earth Day eve /100+ attended

Noriko in Arizona

And worked as a community project lead on the Solarize Southwest Portland project


Noriko attended an international solar conference in Valencia, Spain

Oregon was well represented at Valencia, Spain solar conf

I was invited to present on residential solar

"Nori Midori" became a bag lady for New Seasons

Lee Rahr, Portland's residential solar leader, at the NW Solar Expo

I drove my first all electric car - Nissan LEAF and we were accepted into the national "EV Project"

We liked the LEAF enough to order one - we won't get it until March 2011

We planted our first food garden this year ...

First year living with our own solar electric system - we put power into the grid all summer

 At naturehouse we built a three-bin compost system structure and …

We built a three-bin compost system structure ...

We grew our own food ...

We created a Rain Garden in the backyard to help with stormwater mgmt ...

We recycled or re-purposed - and our neighborhood participated in a compost curbside pick up program - a pilot for Portland

I spent a whole lot of time in San Francisco and the Bay Area

And spent some time in SoCal too

I also edited, reviewed, and promoted John Patterson’s new book “FOOTPRINT” …

To better understand our own footprint and reduce it as much as possible!








 Whew … this level of activity amounted to huge amounts of time, money, energy and passion.  In the process we learned a lot and most was fun and rather fullfilling to do. 

So WHY did we do all this you may ask?  

Well, that’s way too complex an answer for this post, but let’s just say we did all this for …

The Polar Bears ... and ...

… all of the world’s children that were born this year – 2010 

Welcome to the Planet little people!

Sae  (Harold & Yuka)

Kassidy (Kevin & Shannon)

Kenzo (Taz & Sakiko)

Sebastian (John & Miho)

Eriko (Adam & Keiko)

Margo (Doug & Cara)

… and also for Dylan, Mayumi, Abby, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on ….

The Landscape of My Dreams

Posted by Mac on November 22, 2010
Posted in A Sustainable LifeAboutnaturehouseRants, Raves & Musings  | Tagged With: , , | 2 Comments

It is interesting how we humans keep track of time. 

Some say time is relative.  I track time by events – the distance to/from – and the beginning and ending of things.  Isn’t everybody like this?  Calendars are helpful, but they don’t rule our lives.  As we live our lives, one year bleeds into another and time marches on.  Next thing we know, years have passed by and it all seemed like yesterday, right?  Remember that old Jackson Browne song [The Pretender] line … “they say in the end it’s just a blink of an eye.”  I hear that’s true.

I mention this because it was one year ago today that I started this blog.  One year!  It is incredible how fast it went.  When I began I had no idea how many posts I’d write, or what I was going to say, or how many people might bother to read.  I did it anyway.  Today I’m proud to say I’ve written one hundred posts, have had over 10,000 visitors/readers from all over the globe, and have been the recipient of countless spammers, crawlers and scanners. 

Currently, I’m averaging about a thousand regular blog readers a month … that’s cool.  I know who some of you are and I want to thank you!  Thanks for being good enough to support me by reading this blog because it is not easy to do this week after week.  Your interest keeps me interested.   If I thought nobody cared, I’d probably move on, but I’m quite motivated and really just getting started. 

I still have a whole lot more to do – and a whole more to say.  I hope you’ll continue to read.

I am a lucky guy!

I do need to make one more acknowledgment today … one more very important Thank You to my marvelous wife and life partner, Noriko Maeda McDowell. 

Without her love and support, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. 

She is my spirit.  

She is my muse.  

She is the landscape of my dreams. 

I dedicate this post to you, my darling!

Watching the game - both politics and sports = brutal competition

 Well, now … looks like we’re gonna have ourselves a big ‘ol TEA PARTY in Washington come January.

Yeehaw.  Serve ‘em up bartender, I think I’ll have a double.  No, I haven’t been drinking.  My eyes are just bleary from hitting my head against the wall. 

What a night it was, huh?!   WHOOOOSSSSSS !!  You can almost feel the pendulum swinging past, can’t you? 

Political hacks are calling it “a wave” and they expect more to come over these next several election terms.  Better get your surfboard all waxed up and ready for a wild ride.  This is going to be some decade! Ah, but today there will be joy in many corners of America.  Some voters believe they’ve “taken back” something from someone else. They most likely have.  

Many folks will be joyful because they believe this is the return of Populism in America; the will of the people and all that.  Maybe it is, only time will tell. 

For some voters, a yearning will be fulfilled, at least for one night.  Hey, you starry-eyed Obama supporters know what I mean.  Remember?  For the victors … election eve is always like that first ___ (fill in the blank).  Full of hope, and promise, and roses.  Anything seems possible.  It is the first day.  I remember that feeling. I was junkie for that feeling long ago, but I’ve since been educated.  The hard way.  Believe me, this feeling won’t last for long. 

I only wish it were true.  I also yearn for the days when we the people mattered, or at least we had the perception that we did.  I love the idea of common cause and the will of the people.  I’ve always counted on our strong middle-class to provide balance between the extremes, but I fear the results of this election may have moved things even farther apart. 

This outcome will add to the polarization (if that’s possible) because Republicants just moved further right and the Democraps suddenly got more left.  Yep, the more moderate “blue dog” Democrats lost their seats leaving the most liberal Dems all by themselves. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have their own problems as there’ll be some in-fighting between the entrenched country-club conservatives (like John Boehner R-OH) and the newly-elected tea party representatives who want to break up the business-as-usual club in Washington. This menagerie will be a very interesting lot to watch. 

When the-man-with-the-tan, John Boehner, takes over he’ll likely do what every Speaker of the House has done – solidify his power base and ensure his hand-picked committee chairs are in place to do just that.  This priority over the country’s business was one of many mistakes Nancy Pelosi made as Speaker, and why she failed so badly in a time where the country needed and demanded more.  Although there’ll be all kinds of excitement about this election, especially from the tea partiers, I think we’ll find that this mid-term election was mainly power politics 101.  Another product of the colossal power struggle between two political parties and the people and entities that rule them.  The “power elite” wages war upon one another rather than to govern, and I’m concerned with what sociologists have been warning us about … that this is actually ground zero for class and social warfare, American-style.  We’ll soon see.

Oh.  Tea Party bartender … on second thought, you can forget that double.  I think one is enough for me, thanks. 


Congrats to Jerry Brown, the youngest-oldest Governor in the history of California.  Geesshhhh, talk about living multiple lives … JB is experiencing multiple lives in real time.  He beat the big money.  The guy is tenacious.

I can’t go without a SHOUT OUT to my favorite over-achieving baseball team, The San Francisco Giants, who are now MLB WORLD CHAMPIONS!  Way to go!!  Man, they were fun to watch this year.  My buddy’s ( Jimi D) cousin, Mike Fontenot , was picked up by the Giants from the Cubs in mid-August, played a little infield, and ended up with a World Series Championship ring.  That’s one lucky guy!

A nod to my San Francisco pal, Patti Mangan, who has season tickets and takes me to the game when I’m in town.  She took this picture (above) at the last game we watched together in July when the Giants were like 7 games back in their division.  Patti is a great friend and I love her to death. 

Patti and Noriko in Patti's beloved old Mercedes convertable

Prop 23 Goes Down!  Thanks California, the planet owes you one!  

Author (age 17) coordinating a Democratic Party function in Ventura County circa 1971.

Election time is upon us once again.  God help us all! 

I curse my mail box this time of year, I really do. It gets filled daily with useless crapola that political candidates and their handlers think is important.  How can we see things so differently?  My recycling bin is overflowing with the vile stuff. Although much of this propaganda is pure character assassination that I rarely glance at before it goes into the blue bin, I did receive one piece that spoke to me.  In big, bold, letters it said, “What you fight for is who you are.”  Damn right, Mr. Devlin, I couldn’t agree more!  (nee Oregon State Senate candidate, Richard Devlin of Salem, who looks like a plus-size leprechaun in his ads.)  Problem is politicians always say they’re “fighting for ___” (fill in the blank), but I wonder if career politicians actually believe any of this?!

Watching TV near Election Day is just plain brutal.  With all of the absolutely ridiculous and intelligence-insulting political ads spewed on the tube – it just isn’t worth it.  Now that the final episode of Mad Men has been broadcast for the season, that’s it for me, no television until the November elections are over.  Okay, I’ll turn it on for UO college football games (Go Ducks!) and the MLB World Series (Go Giants!), but that’s it!  Don’t think I can do it?  Bet me.  I’m tired of partisan politics and the lack of responsibility of our so-called leaders (Democraps and Republicants alike), and what passes for civil, social and political discourse in the age of Fox News and Glenn Beck.  In times like these we need leaders, not politicians, entertainers, and charlatans, to guide us and bring us back from the brink.  Unfortunately, these are few and far between.

By the look of this current lot of candidates, it’s not going to get better anytime soon.  Based upon what I’ve seen, we’ve got a bunch of disenfranchised weirdoes, political hacks, has-beens, and re-treads running for high office all over America.  I seriously doubt if any of these clowns will have much of a positive impact on the national landscape.  Americans are completely fed up with Washington political dysfunction and it makes some people mad enough to drink tea, parade around in powdered wigs, and do whatever else Tea Partiers do when they co-mingle.  They hate the “government” and in some ways I really can’t blame ‘em. 

This election day I can hardly stand to vote.  I’m most concerned with the oil companies trying to stop the clean air act in California [Prop 23] but there’s not much I can do about it since I live in Oregon.  I count on my friends, family, and reasonable people to do what is right … and pray that these people show up on Election Day.  If they’re as tired of the political circus and associated results as I am, I shouldn’t blame them if they don’t.

It wasn’t always this way for me. 

In fact, my political roots ran rather deep and much of my youth was devoted to party politics.  I was a rare breed since many of my generation were not interested in “the establishment” and party affiliations, however my best friend’s father was the head of Democratic Party in Ventura County (CA), so as a teenager I worked tirelessly for local pols and for US Senators Robert Kennedy and John Tunney.  Later on I attended USCB because they had a good PoliSci Department and graduated with a BA in Political Science.  Throughout the 1970-80s I worked on any number of local, state, and even national, political campaigns and had success as a volunteer coordinator, political operative, and campaign manager.  I built a solid reputation and was asked to moderate political forums and candidate debates and was even offered a job working as a lobbyist in Sacramento.  [I declined, but that is a story for another time as it involved one of my heroes UFW leader Cesar Chavez.]

After decades of fighting these nasty battles, my contempt became so overwhelming that I turned away from politics and transferred my well-honed strategic and tactical skills towards business as a professional project manager.  Since then I haven’t much cared for party politics regardless of who is in power, as I see little difference between the players in the final analysis. 

Sure, I’m jaded and frustrated like a great many of us, but I draw the line at dressing up in a powered wig and parading alongside the malcontents.  Besides, I cannot agree with most of what they stand for and do not subscribe to the seething anger, fear and ignorance that drives that particular movement.  

I’m a green tea drinker anyway.

My approach to life has morphed and today I’d rather embrace the tenants of Mr. Devlin’s campaign slogan “What you fight for is who you are” than merely to show up to vote once a year for people and parties I no longer care about.  As far as I’m concerned they no longer represent me and I chose to put my time, energy, money, and political good will towards making our planet a better place to live for the future of our children and grandchildren and so on.  This fight is one worth fighting for and it is one that we can win by working together rather than via the divisive political environment we find ourselves choking on today.

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.


Ten minutes is all it takes!

Since so many of our friends and neighbors are interested in solar, or are in the process of installing solar on their homes this year, I’ve decided to post some articles on how to live with solar.  Almost all of the information available today is about how solar works, or how to buy a solar system, or regarding incentives, installation costs and payback, etc…  There is a lot to read for homeowners thinking about purchasing a solar system, but very little is written about what to do after you’ve installed.

What?!  You thought the effort made to understand the benefits, make the right purchase decision, and get it installed on your roof was it and you’re done?!  I know, you’ve been told by everyone that you shouldn’t have to think about it ever again, that solar works quietly and efficiently without any maintenance, right?  Well not exactly.  As my father used to say, you might have another think coming.

I submit to you that the day solar is installed on your home is the true beginning of your involvement, not the end.

Simple tools get the job done

Sure there’ll be a moment when you’ll look at your shiny new panels all glistening in the sun, quietly bringing you clean energy, and you’ll feel fulfilled in some strange way.  It happened to me.  My level of self-satisfaction was sky high and I checked this off my “to do” list with an intention to move on to the next thing. What I didn’t realize was that having a solar electric system makes one hyper sensitive – not only to the energy one generates from solar – but of the demand and/or usage of that energy itself.  This is a big change in me.

For some it can be quite addictive.  I check our production meter almost daily.  My involvement manifests itself like monitoring power output – on the production side and the demand side – and even calc unused power being sent to the grid.  Call me anal retentive, but I want to know all of that.  At naturehouse our percentage of solar-generated PV power is estimated to be 20-22% of our total annual electrical needs.  I want to increase this to 50%, and that will be a huge challenge because the system will only generate a fixed max amount energy, so the difference will be in our usage of electricity (array and grid combined) and this requires improved energy efficiency and additional change in our behavior.

Therein lays the rub.  Living with solar could cause one to change their own behavior, which is something most adult humans find difficult, especially if means changing a habit or making a sacrifice in convenience.

Part of the reason for my blog is to talk about just that … how living more sustainably requires a change in perspective and behavior from what we’ve been taught, expected, or are used to doing in our daily lives.  So, yeah, breaking old habits is a big part of living with solar power.

I’ll try to capture more of what this means for us in future posts, today let’s start with the basics for this first installment of Living with Solar – the maintenance of your solar panels.

Simple maintenance – just keep ‘em clean

Tools required: ladder, hose with nozzle, and a soft brush with extended handle.  That’s it.

Because Pac NW rains showered our array all winter and spring, we haven’t needed to clean our panels since install last December.  I did so only once this spring just to see how long it would take – no more than 10 minutes to completely clean all twenty panels.  No muss, no fuss.  However, because our array is located in the backyard next to an open field with hoofed animals that kick up dirt all day long, I’ve noticed our panels are now getting some dust on them.  If I don’t clean off this dust and the tree debris that sometime settles, our production will decrease and that idea bothers me. I don’t want that!

So since the rains have ceased I’m now cleaning our array once or twice a month. I actually like doing it, it feels good kind of like washing a brand new car if you know what I mean.  Truth be told I’ve spent more time cutting hedges and tree limbs outside our kitchen just so we can see the panels from our kitchen window.

One caution, don’t clean your panels during mid-day peak sunlight when the panels are hot.  Cold water on hot glass is never a good idea.  The inverter doesn’t need anything, so not much to do or worry about in maintaining a solar photovoltaic system on your home.


Of course if your array is atop a three-story structure it may be a whole different story.  I wouldn’t recommend standing on a ladder tall enough to do what I’m doing.  This may require someone with the proper equipment or maybe a power washer sprayer will do the trick if you can get enough pressure.

Then again, most people don’t have llamas and goats living next door either.

I confess I really do like cleaning my panels

Okay, I realize my last post was tough to read.  I feel I owe you something lighter as a symbol of my appreciation, so I offer you this.  Our massage therapist friend, Sarah, asked me to help write her BIO / Introduction for her new gig.  Naturally, I was eager to help.  Here’s what I came up with and thought you might enjoy it.  Sarah doesn’t read my blog, so she’ll never know (shhhhhhhh).  I did submit it and hope her new boss sees the humor … or Sarah could have a very short tenure.  My bad!



Meet Sarah - the Healer



Sarah – Massage Therapist

There is a fine line between pleasure and pain …

Mistress Sarah will know how to find that place as she breaks down your tensions and ills with her magic touch.  Indeed, we are but putty in her hands.  This can be a scary place for some and a desirous place for others.  When she finds that place you will CRY OUT, but your own words may surprise you; Please … don’t!  Stop!!  Ahhh … please don’t stop.  It hurts sooooo good.  

Sarah will giggle with delight like the devil himself.

She revels in her complete and utter dominance over your body – and now your soul.  Where does this power come from you may ask? Sarah is a master of the wisdom and power from centuries-old teachings and techniques of deep tissue massage.  Using these techniques, no muscle knot or aching joint can defeat her.  Sarah uses all the parts of her own supple body (especially the sharp ones), as she breaks down your resistance one touch at a time. This is her art and we are merely her canvas.  In the end, she gives life back to the broken, and for that we are forever grateful. 

So, when is my next appointment?

P.S. – Her hobbies include drinking Fat Tire Amber Ale and Cougar-ing unsuspecting young Mexican boys in Cancun.  No truth to the rumor that Al Gore is one of her customers!

I recently participated in what was called the “Solarize Summit” which was sponsored by Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability and the Energy Trust of Oregon and was held at the ETO building here in Portland.  There were 30 or so people attending and collectively we represented the three established Solarize programs (SE, NE & SW neighborhoods) with reps from NW and North Portland.  This meeting also included folks from Solar Oregon, Conservation Services Group, Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement, Oregonians for Renewable Energy Policy (OREP), and representatives from cities such as Beaverton, Salem, and Scappose.  

Seattle Washington drove down to join us and was represented by Jennifer Grove, Executive Director of Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (NW S.E.E.D.).  Jennifer was accompanied by several of her project managers who seemed rather eager to gain understanding from what we had learned. 

Lee Rahr (who organized the Solar Summitt meeting) is shown here with Claire Carlson (Solar Oregon) conducting the first introductory workshop for Solarize SW Portland

The main purpose of this meeting was to share experiences amongst ourselves as well as with others who are considering a similar program in their own community.  In summary, our agenda included: The Solarize Portland Model; Operations; Education and Outreach; Contractor Selection Process (RFP); Lessons Learned and Best Practices.  Solarize Portland has been perceived successful enough that others are seeking to copy our program and implement it in their own cities.  It was satisfying to share our story with others and we must have had an impact … because I’m pleased to announce that Solarize Salem http://solarizesalem.org/ kicked off their program a few days later … and just this week Seattle announced the launch of Solarize Seattle sponsored by NW SEED. 


Here’s their announcement:

“The cost of solar is coming down fast!  Our neighbors to the south are putting up solar panels everywhere thanks to the Solarize Portland initiative. Interested neighbors are coming together to enjoy significant savings through the bulk purchase of solar electric panels.  In the last year, Solarize Portland quadrupled the amount of residential solar in Portland, created professional-wage green jobs, and brought down solar prices throughout Oregon. After careful study of the Solarize Portland project, Northwest SEED is working with Seattle neighborhoods to organize a Solarize Seattle effort.

If you’ve been thinking about installing a solar system on your home but aren’t sure where to start, this program may be for you!

We are currently working with the Queen Anne neighborhood to launch a pilot for the Solarize Seattle effort. If you’re interested in joining the pilot please contact our Solarize Project Coordinator at the information below. We’re hoping the pilot will spur Solarize efforts across Seattle neighborhoods and are keeping a list of interested folks. So, even if you’re not from Queen Anne, we want to hear from you!”  

Good for them!  I know they’ll experience the same success we’ve had in Oregon and I applaud their initiative.

In Portland we’re still crunching the numbers, but if current trending holds we’ll be adding approximately 1.1Megawatts of clean and renewable energy to our neighborhoods by the end of this year.  This amount of residential solar electric installation has never before been seen in the Pac Northwest for existing homes.  This clearly shows the level of interest and demand for solar energy and I’m proud to play some small part.