COLUMN: Solar energy and water conservation: ties that bind

City councillor Janice Morrison on solar in Nelson and drought in California.

by Janice Morrison

My partner Mike and I have just returned from our annual vacation. This year we travelled to one of our favourite cities, Rancho Mirage, Calif. I know some of you will already be questioning what my vacation has to do with Nelson or being a city councillor. Travel, whether down the street or around the world, constantly reminds me that we have more similarities than differences and that we need to learn from each other’s experiences.

Rancho Mirage is a city of 17,000 permanent residents, about the size of Greater Nelson (when we include Areas E and F). Rancho Mirage depends heavily on tourism as an economic driver during the winter like Nelson in the summer (winter, too, for those looking for the best powder).

So what do we have in common? Water. California is in the fourth year of a state-wide drought. Last winter’s lower than average snowpack and higher than average summer temperatures required Nelson to go to Level 4 restrictions. The governor of California has set a state-wide mandate that water utilization be reduced by 25 per cent. In the Coachella Valley it is even higher at 36 per cent as they have a higher per person use of water than the rest of the state.

Here in Nelson the goal is a permanent 20 per cent reduction. This is where the similarities end. Here in Nelson we implemented a water conservation plan, hired a water ambassador and provided education through a number of venues city newsletter, city webpage, Facebook and the help of local media.

We successfully reduced our water utilization. Unfortunately, water districts in the desert do not appear to have a comprehensive plan and have been incurring fines for not meeting targets and could be looking at future fines of $10,000 per day for non-compliance. These costs will no doubt be passed on to the users. Here in Nelson we do have the capacity to fine those that violate the Level 4 restrictions to date we have not needed to levy a single fine.

What else do we have in common? Solar energy. Pre-sales in Nelson have now surpassed the required 150 panels and our demonstration solar garden will go ahead. While we will not be replacing our green hydroelectric anytime soon with solar, the solar garden concept has garnered significant interest (both supporters and dissenters). In California another story is unfolding.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law SB350, which requires California to get 50 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030. Federally, the US government wants to phase out all coal burning electrical production. So one would naturally think that in a region that gets as much sunshine as California, solar would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the state’s major utility companies are pushing back against roof-top solar. Big power wants homeowners with roof-top solar panels to pay additional monthly fees to be hooked up to the power grid. Some green energy advocates believe these additional charges will kill roof-top solar in California.

Other thoughts: Remember, shop local. Being in the US for the frenzy of Black Friday, I could not resist the temptation to go and at least take a look. With the weak Canadian dollar there were no shopping bargains to be found by crossing the border. Even without considering the exchange rate many products were the same price as at home. Here in Nelson we are fortunate to have an eclectic mix of one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques and services that can meet the needs of even the most demanding Santa’s list. Shopping local is an investment in your community.

As this is my last column for 2015, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas, peace and a bountiful year to come. Comments and questions are always welcome, and I can be reached at jmorrison@nelson.ca.

Nelson city councillor Janice Morrison shares this space each week with her council colleagues.