February 24, 2012 (San Diego) -- What if San Diego produced its own electricity with solar on rooftops and parking garage covers? Imagine if San Diego became its own utility provider—instead of SDG&E.
That’s exactly what Congressman and mayoral candidate Bob Filner proposed in a brainstorming session with top regional experts at part I of “Forging a Sustainable Future.” (Part II takes place March 3-4 at San Diego State University. Filner will be among those speaking.)
The implications of his proposals are staggering.
Could ratepayers/taxpayers say “no” to more massive and destructive wind and solar projects proposed by SDG&E in our backcountry areas? What if ratepayers —not Sempra shareholders—pocket profits? Would San Diegans just say “no” to sticking ratepayers with the bill for wildfires caused by SDG&E’s poorly maintained lines? Better yet, insist on proper maintenance for the future? Maybe we could even reduce rates in a region paying the highest utility rates in the nation.
Filner, a former science teacher, called for a “rational, science-based approach” to energy issues. He believes climate change needs to be addressed—but not the way that SDG&E wants to criss-cross our region with towering high-voltage lines and skyscraper-sized wind turbines.
“We’re going to do what we can in San Diego,” he said, noting that a power grid system centralized around fossi fuels and powerlines from Arizona left San Diego vulnerable during the recent multi-state blackout. Then he posed an intriguing questions.
“What if we decentralize and reduce dependence on fossil fuels?”
An audience member asked, “You mean going off grid?”
Filner confirmed, “We’re gonna do it. It can’t happen overnight,” he said, then added with a can-do tone, “We are a high-tech capital…That’s what we’re going to do.”
Moreover, Filner predicted, “I think this mayoral race will have national ramifications.”
If elected, Filner said he would make environmental designer Jim Bell his “czar of energy.” Bell has crunched the numbers and come up with a plan to power the San Diego region 100 percent through solar on rooftops and by covering parking lots with covers topped by solar panels. Utilitizing buildings and land already impacted makes more sense than paving over the desert or erecting wind turbines in formerly protected federal wilderness and recreation areas, both believe.
Filner suggested that maybe he would change the department of developmental services to the department of livability and sustainability instead. “We bring down your cost, bring down fees if a building is sustainable, and we raise them if it’s not,” he said.
He added, “On my first day in office I can mandate, I think, solar power on public buildings. That can create jobs,” as well as setting a positive example, he observed.
A student stood up to speak. “The American dream is slipping out of our hands,” he said. “Nobody’s got a job anymore….We can eliminate some of our social problems if we teach people how to live …if we were to build homes that are sustainable, with recyclable materials, off grid with a food forest…”
Filner replied, “What if Jim designed a City Hall that could do that?” Such a City Hall could be a showplace for the region and the nation, potentially.
He added that Bell’s plan for a sustainable San Diego would created hundreds of thousands of jobs as well as energy sustainability. Bell also has devised plans for water sustainability and more for the San Diego region.
As for the coastal communities, where rising sea levels from melting polar ice caps could cause flooding in the future according to predictions by scientists at UCSD and Scripps Institute, Filner observed, “If we’re going to save our beaches, we’ve got to get our heads out of the sand….SANDAG does nothing to decrease greenhouse gasses,” he said, referring to the San Diego Regional Association of Governments. “It’s ridiculous.”
Noting that SANDAG has 18 individual cities but that votes are weighted to give San Diego an edge, he noted, “I will have 40 percent of the vote. If I unite with maybe one other, we can change it.”
Ideas flowed freely from the audience, which included many local leaders and experts on sustainability. Alan Cassell from Cuyamaca College noted that the agave cactus absorbs carbon dioxide efficiently. He proposed planting agave crops. ECM editor Miriam Raftery asked if agave, which requires very little water, could be used as greenbelts to halt wildfires.
Filner replied, “We can do stuff like this locally and become a beacon of the nation. “
He wants to bring people together again—starting with part II of Forging a Sustainable Future March 3-4 at SDSU.
The Congressman who hopes to be mayor praised those present , concluding, “We could come up with enough great ideas in this room to keep us busy for decades….We’re going to take what is practical and doable…and we are going to be successful. “ In conclusion, he pledged, “We will work so quickly that it will be amazing.”
Forging a Sustainable Future is sponsored by United Green, a nonprofit division of Heartland Coalition, publisher of ECM. Tickets for ECM subscribers, staff, volunteers and sponsors are $35 (discounted from $95). Student admission is also $35. For tickets and details, visit http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/sites/eastcountymagazine.org/files/images/banners/ForgingaSustainable-flyer-2012_0.png