GUEST COMMENTARY: Early movements coming from the 'Peoples' Visioning'

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

In response to events in our city, the nation and world, on the heels of the economic collapse and tenuous early recovery, and with obvious earth warming, validating all the science in predicting what would happen with one little exception: The conservative estimates of the scientists regarding time frame for all this to occur, and our own very local concerns "in all this."

The "Peoples' Visioning" took shape to update, activate and quickly address these profound problems, at the grassroots level, by interacting with citizens, local government and other entities to move quickly on these problems. We were formed to address climate concerns, bring good jobs without tax giveaways, harming education or blighting our neighborhoods using EEZs, tax increment financing and the like. We have and continue to invite all to attend and get involved to resolve these and other huge issues facing our community by working together.

The Peoples’ Visioning’s first idea was moved forward in public comment at Columbia City Council on Dec. 3 when we backed up our request to raise Columbia’s Renewable Energy Standard to 80 percent by 2015. (See George Kennedy's column on the issue.) This goal is well behind other leading cities including Oak Park, Ill., with 100 percent renewable energy; Cincinnati looking to follow Oak Park; Vancouver, Canada, at 90 percent; and Eugene, Ore., with 88 percent. Until our request to raise Columbia’s Renewable Energy Standard, there had been little or no movement on this idea for Columbia. After explaining the Peoples’ Visioning could also take Columbia a large part of the way to this goal with our concepts and ideas, Mayor Bob McDavid requested we go to the city’s boards and commissions, which has begun.

At the boards and commissions, we have been explaining that we want, among other ideas to reach this goal, for Columbia to move to a more decentralized, 99 percent model, rather than our present, centralized, 1 percent model. We want to generate renewable energy on every rooftop or sunny spot in the yard, for everyone wishing to participate, so even our small homeowners can and will want to take advantage of eventually becoming a local mini power producer. The decentralized model has numerous advantages:

  • Requires far less transmission infrastructure cost and other associated costs.
  • Generates significantly less energy loss through transmission lines.
  • Keeps energy dollars in our community and raises all boats.
  • As climate change and severe weather increase, potential weather emergencies would be spread across a wider range, providing a protective and reduced risk of power loss and damage to our community and neighborhoods.
  • Continuous, on-going jobs will be created, nearly immediately, as we get this changeover rolling.
  • Columbia residents and our utility will save approximately 30 percent of our energy use just from the first step in the process of buildings and homes becoming efficient and weatherized, individually, or as part of the city’s required energy efficiency with a blower-door program, before qualifying to tie in solar panels to our utility grid.
  • This approximate 30 percent savings on electricity allows some funds to further invest in efficiency programs with incentives for everyone.
  • This investment and changeover will bring additional savings in health care and environmental costs as we use cleaner, renewable sources of power.
  • This renewable energy shift will bring more opportunities, jobs and sustainable business, growth and development models.
  • It will allow us, as a community, to mobilize, work and come together to support each other in community service and caring for our fellow man, present and future life on this planet.

People's Visioning has been discussing this decentralized model and ideas with other community entities as well and have ideas to accomplish this 99 percent, decentralized model and other important steps to reach the goal of at least 80 percent by 2015. It is already possible to purchase renewable energy on the market for just a few cents more than dangerous, dirty fossil and nuclear fuel. Whatever we do not generate with the 99 percent, decentralized model can then be purchased on the market at even more competitive prices two years from now.

Join Peoples’ Visioning. Bring your passion and ideas — there’s much more to accomplish, and your ideas are desired. Learn more about this or other topics Peoples’ Visioning addresses such as education, neighborhoods, development and finance, public health and many more. Find out how to get involved through Peoples’ Visioning on Facebook or at

Monta Welch is the founder and president of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition and Interfaith Care for Creation.

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Mark Foecking January 23, 2013 | 9:21 a.m.

Let's size a system that would power an average home in Columbia:

860 kwh/month is about 30 kwh/day. We get 5 hours of good sun on the average, so that's a 6 KW system. Top quality panels run about $2.50/watt these days, so that's $15,000 worth of panels, plus a $5,000 grid tie inverter, mounts, inspection and labor will cost about $25,000, some of which can be recovered with tax credits and rebates (1/3?). So that's $15,000/household x 30,000 households = $450 million dollars in three years.

However, this only gets us to about 40%, since commercial and industrial uses account for most electrical use.

There's also the issue of the grid's capacity to absorb excess energy, which starts to become a real problem at 40% random generation and above. Since there is no energy storage on the grid, input from the random sources must be limited at peak times (to avoid voltage and frequency surges), which means you have capacity going unused. This means that the energy contribution of additional capacity becomes less and less, and there's less and less financial incentive to do it. Would someone install $15,000 worth of panels if he'd only be able to use 50 or 60% of it?

80% is absolutely impractical without a large amount of energy storage. An interconnected, grid based system needs to have a pumped hydro resource (other methods do not yet have the capacity) for storage, and we don't have enough water or elevation difference to make that happen anywhere close (not to mention we couldn't afford it). This means anyone installing solar needs to look at localized energy storage (generally batteries), both to maximize their energy harvest and decrease their reliance (and effect) on the grid.


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