Ride the Winds of the Fires for Change to Sustainable Communities


Quickly rebuilding 8,900 buildings destroyed by the fires as “Zero Net Energy” buildings — it’s impossible, right?

Wrong; it’s cost-effective and not that hard, but requires community determination and leadership.

We are at the fork in the road after fires destroyed over 8,900 buildings last month and killed over 40 neighbors in our community in the great fires of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. The largest of many such fires in California over the past few years. The new community slogan is “Love is Thicker than the Smoke “and the tragic devastation of the fires have brought the community together in helping each other heal and rebuild.

Will we rush to rebuild in the same way as before or will we rebuild with cost-effective zero net energy buildings and renewable microgrids?

One road leads to more smoke — a community with continued high utility costs, wasteful energy use, add greenhouse gasses, dependence on fossil fuels, less reliable, less resilient energy systems all contributing to the degradation of the environment and more fires and “natural” disasters.

The other road leads to more love – love of community, future generations, nature and a commitment to rebuild as a zero net energy community. Rebuilding critical public infrastructure designed with renewable microgrids for improved reliability. And leadership that loves to remove barriers to creating this new sustainable community.

So, let’s get to the heart of the matter – building sustainable, reliable, smart, 21st century buildings and power systems is vital to the economic, social and environmental health of our community and the global community. Sustainable designs and systems are the solution that stops contributing to the essential problem of global climate change.

Why zero net energy buildings? They are the best cost-effective solution. zero net energy buildings are so cost effective that California will requires all homes to be zero net energy starting in 2020 — just two years. Commercial buildings have until 2030 to be zero net energy. The added costs for a zero net energy home are only $8,000 to $12,000 in first costs. The reduced homeowner utility bills will pay for the added costs in a few years and/or contribute to monthly mortgage costs.

Developers like De Young Properties are building zero net energy communities today. The EnVision community with 36 zero net energy homes in Clovis is the largest zero net energy community in the Central Valley.

Why renewable microgrids? It is sustainable technology for a digital world.

Requiring renewable microgrids for our essential public services and buildings is the logical and cost-effective approach for the new normal. Richard Branson and Amory Lovins wrote an Aug. 23, 2017 editorial for the New York Times “How to Keep the Lights on After a Hurricane” And I’ll add, or a firestorm, see key quote below:

Microgrids are becoming proven and popular around the world from India (where record floods couldn’t stop solar power) to the University of California at San Diego, whose microgrid (powering 92 percent of the campus and saving $8 million a year) reversed flow and sent power back to the utility in less than a half-hour (until wildfires ate a power line).

Some traditional utilities oppose microgrids as a threat to their beleaguered monopoly. But giant electrical equipment firms like Siemens, Schneider and General Electric now offer microgrids, and nearly 2,000 projects were underway worldwide at the end of 2016.

Why leadership is required to remove the barriers to zero net energy with community-based solutions?

Just as nothing could stop the recent fires, we need leadership that nothing can stop until we solve these barriers and rebuild smart with 100 percent renewable power and microgrid systems.

According to the Sierra Club, 100 Commitments: five U.S. cities have already done this and 46 cities, four countries and one state have adapted 100 percent renewable plans. Many of these cities are rebuilding from natural disasters due to hurricanes, monster storms, floods, and fires.

It is time to get our head out of the sand, wake up and face the challenge.

We know what to do and how to do it – but the barriers are many.

Barriers include insurance coverage, FEMA coverage, modest added first costs, appraisal process, loan process, building permit process, design and trade training, and the rush to get done.

Which road to take as a community? As individuals? What is the right thing do?

Rebuilding unsustainably and wasting energy is clearly not the right thing to do for the public or private buildings. So, we know the right thing to do and for the love of the community and future generations we need to have the courage, creativity, collaboration and leadership to clear the smoke and the barriers and rebuild our homes and community as part of the solution for a sustainable world.

Ride the Winds of the Fires for Change to Sustainable Communities, by Karl Johnson, Napa Valley Register, November 15, 2017.

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