Navigating Bainbridge: Planning for the Comp Plan Update

Jon Quitslund

In the evening on July 22nd, the City of Bainbridge Island put on a program to explain the purpose and scope of the revision of our Comprehensive Plan, which will begin in earnest at the end of the Summer.

Navigate Bainbridge: Charting Our Future Together was designed to enlist citizen participants in the two-year update process.  Lots of volunteers will be needed to work with City staff, members of the Planning Commission, and representatives of other advisory groups and civic organizations.

I had hoped to see a larger turnout, but the audience included many people I didn’t know, and that’s always a good sign.  Even when we disagree, the diversity of interests and talents in our community is our source of vitality.  Questions during the Q & A period covered a wide spectrum, dealing both with the process and opportunities for citizen involvement, and with issues that need to be addressed.

The centerpiece of the program was a presentation by Joseph Tovar, a city planning professional with deep experience at the state level with growth management principles, and in city governments with Comprehensive Plans and their implementation.

What Mr. Tovar said laid to rest some concerns that have been on my mind for months.  He described the work ahead of us as two-fold.

First, there’s work to do on the Comprehensive Plan, in the light of fresh information and current concerns.  Another set of tasks arises from the need for consistency between the Comp Plan and the Municipal Code – the regulations by which the norms and goals of the Plan are implemented.

Mr. Tovar proposed that while we review and revise the Comp Plan, we should also undertake, on a parallel track, an audit of the Municipal Code; he spoke of a ‘parking lot’ for Code amendments that will be considered after the Comp Plan has been updated.

Following this advice will add complexity and some controversy to an already daunting challenge, but in crucial portions of the Code (pertaining especially to development and growth management), we have “pre-existing conditions” that hinder the implementation of the current Comprehensive Plan’s vision.

The Comp Plan and the Code serve different purposes and they can’t be perfectly consistent, but both will be improved if they are brought closer into alignment.

* * *

As boaters know, to navigate you need accurate charts, and familiarity with the information they contain.  Without such knowledge, even in fair weather you may run aground.  The Comprehensive Plan is not a chart but a charter – and not a charter boat on which, for a sum of money, you’ll be taken for a carefree cruise.

Nor is the Comprehensive Plan much like a charter granted to corporations by royal authority or a state agency, conferring certain rights and privileges.  Rather, it is an agreement entered into by citizens and their government (elected representatives, salaried employees, and volunteer members of advisory boards and commissions).

Our Comprehensive Plan enacts at the local level the principles and objectives of Washington state’s Growth Management Act, which requires that we plan for and maintain an infrastructure (systems for mobility, commerce, water, electricity, waste disposal, parks, schools, etc.) consistent with our population.  (Population throughout our region is expected to grow in the next twenty years and beyond: I’ll say more about this below.)

The facts about our population, community life, and physical infrastructure make up much of the Comp Plan’s bulk, and now, twenty years since the first plan was completed, that information needs to be brought up to date and reinterpreted, as the basis for planning in the years ahead.

To the facts of community life as we each experience them, we join aspirations and concerns about the future of Bainbridge Island.  Of the things that we value most, what seems to be at risk?  What positive trends should be encouraged, by citizens’ efforts and by changes in public policies?  What developments can be managed, and what will we have to put up with or adapt to?

I don’t expect that reform of City government will be a topic for discussion and decisions during the Comp Plan update, but staff in the Public Works and Planning departments will be involved in managing the whole project, and major changes in the Plan and its implementation will entail changes in the missions of those departments.

Land use policies and population growth will be important and difficult topics for discussion during the update: somebody gave 23,300 as our present population, and 28,000 as the estimate for twenty years from now.  I don’t know whether that estimate takes into account the population shifts and economic impacts resulting from climate change: 28,000 might be a lowball figure.

You won’t need to learn how to breathe under water, but get ready to ponder the imponderable.

The island’s “carrying capacity” is currently a Rumsfeldian “known unknown.”  I trust that before we’re done, people will know better how to talk about our capacity for growth, and also about the prudent use of natural resources that support our quality of life.

To conclude, let me repeat here what I’ve said before: this project, for as long as it takes and as difficult as it may be at times, offers an incomparable opportunity for all the participants to deepen their understanding of this place and its people.

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Comprehensive Plan, Cooperation, Cultural Change, Demographic Groups, Environment, Finite Natural Resources, Island values, People, Place, Stewardship, Values | Comments Off

Further Thoughts on Comprehensive Plan Principles

Jon Quitslund

When I posted my two-part essay on the current Comp Plan’s Overriding Principles, I thought I might follow it up when I had some reactions from readers.  A couple of members of the City Council thanked me for sending the essay to them, but as a group the Council seems still to be unready to discuss policy directives.  Ron Peltier, the leader of Islanders for Responsible Development, took the trouble to respond to several passages, and what he wrote has prompted me to think again about some of the principles that will, I hope, guide our update of the Comp Plan – and, in due time, the other planning and regulatory instruments that need to be aligned with it.

Ron Peltier and I differ in some respects, but our differences are amicable; there’s a good deal of common ground between us.  He has helped me to clarify my own thinking, and on one important point, to correct a mistaken interpretation of the Comp Plan’s language.

Commenting on what I said in Part I of the essay about Islanders’ attitudes toward development, Ron calls me out for “trivializing” concerns that he considers legitimate.  I agree with him that some specific proposals for development should be contested, even protested, and some of the forces driving development run counter to the common good.

All development proposals should be carefully examined, in accordance with the Municipal Code and other applicable regulations, including the Comprehensive Plan: that’s the rule that the City’s planners are sworn to abide by.  In my view they take their responsibilities seriously, sometimes facing resistance from people who think the rules shouldn’t apply to them.  Some of the decisions made in City Hall are questionable, but I don’t find fault with the staff so much as with the regulations they are obliged to administer.

The biggest problems arise when technical details in the Municipal Code are out of synch with the Code’s (and the Comp Plan’s) description of goals and purposes.  I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when the letter of the law is insisted upon, not the spirit: it’s interpretations of the technicalities that are contested in court.

We have to fix inconsistencies, and require property owners (and the people who work for them) to pay more attention to the goals and purposes at the heart of our regulations.

The Comp Plan’s fifth principle calls for maintaining finite “environmental resources . . . at a sustainable level.”  I said that “as a concept, sustainability is nebulous,” and Ron objects that I gave away too much ground to the opposition – people whose “aspirations are . . . at odds with the notion of limits and preservation of environmental capital for the benefit of future generations.”  He has a point: we need to confront and resist the reckless pursuit of short-term profits, and we need to put sustainability on a solid foundation.

The problem, as I see it, is that it’s much easier to see what’s not sustainable than to establish fundamental sustainable practices, in a culture and a built environment that will support them, that will also disallow or discourage non-sustainable lifestyles.  That’s our real work; it’s going to take a long time, and if the word “nebulous” stands in the way of clarity about what needs to be done, let’s dispose of it, and get on with building consensus around a specific agenda.

I started Part II of my essay with comments on Principle 4: “The costs and benefits to property owners should be considered in making land use decisions.”  My first point was that this principle “focuses on the interests of private property owners” in a way that could be in conflict with Principle 5, which mandates conservation of environmental resources.

Ron’s comment on this point is most welcome.  He observes, and I agree, that the property owners affected by land use decisions are not only the individuals applying for permits to clear land, to build, or to modify structures or uses on their private property.  The costs and benefits to neighbors, and ultimately to a broader community, must also be considered.

Seen in this light, Principle 4 establishes a context in which all individual interests (specifically, “costs and benefits”) have to be weighed carefully.  (Too often, I think, “property rights” are claimed, and protected or promoted in regulations, as if they belonged to individuals in isolation from others.)

In several other comments, Ron expresses a strong desire to place limits on the growth of the island’s population, and to do so “when we can still preserve the quality and character of the island.”  I agree with him that a number of factors (water in our aquifers being the most discussed) impose limits on our ‘carrying capacity.’

While I’m a great believer in living within limits, I’m also aware that our ability to predict the future and control human behavior is very limited.

Some of the information needed for modeling growth and capacity over the decades ahead is already available, but we need more data, and better analysis of the many variables.  Models need to be brought up to date, fleshed out, critiqued, and made widely available, to provide a frame of reference for all the discussions of growth management that will occur, more or less constructively, in the course of the Comp Plan update.

It has been decided that the regional and local effects of climate change have to be considered in all aspects of the update: what can’t be avoided, we must adapt to.  This decision is bound to make a big difference in the scope and focus of the update process.

While Ron feels that placing limits on growth is already justified, he expresses doubt that the City Council and COBI staff are willing and able to do what needs to be done.  I’m approaching the tasks ahead in a more positive spirit, believing that anyone who wants to be respected and welcomed as a participant in the hard work and decision-making must first model respect for the sincerity of other participants.

The members of the City Council aren’t all on the same page regarding the principles and purposes driving the Comp Plan update, and that’s a good thing, because there are diverse, and sometimes conflicting, ideas and interests that have to be taken into account.

It’s going to be difficult for staff of the Planning and Public Works departments to manage the update process.  The whole project is not supposed to be “staff-driven,” but COBI staff, who have expert knowledge and ultimate responsibility for the Comprehensive Plan’s effectiveness, need to be fully engaged in the process, keeping it on track, more or less on schedule.  There will be a great deal of factual information and communication to be routed and recorded.  I don’t see how everything can be managed effectively without additional staff.

I am eagerly anticipating “Comprehensive Plan 101,” the public meeting at the High School on Tuesday evening, July 22nd, which will formally begin the project.

 

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Comprehensive Plan, Cooperation, Cultural Change, Economy, Environment, Finite Natural Resources, Island values, Place, Property Rights, Values | Comments Off

The Comprehensive Plan’s Five Overriding Principles (Part II)

Jon Quitslund

trees4. The costs and benefits to property owners should be considered in making land use decisions.

I discussed the fifth Principle at length in Part I of this essay.  That principle establishes the importance of maintaining environmental resources (open space, habitat for wildlife, surface water and aquifers, clean air, beaches and the waters of Puget Sound) at a sustainable level.  And that principle, stated on behalf of the common good of the community, stands in contrast to Principle 4, which focuses on the interests of private property owners.

I don’t see an inherent conflict between private and public interests, although in some specific circumstances a conflict may arise.  I know that for some citizens it is a given, and a sore point, that policies justified as “good for the environment” involve impositions on some private property owners.  Likewise, for some citizens the policies and procedures of Planning and Community Development tilt too far in favor of private interests, neglecting the common good.

Principle 4, as stated in the Comp Plan and as implemented in our Municipal Code, declares on behalf of the community as a whole that the interests of property owners should be (and will be, in fact) respected when decisions are made on land uses.

The zoning code and all ordinances governing land uses (in general and in specific decisions by the Director of Planning) must be in accord with this and other principles in the Comp Plan.  Inevitably, public and private interests exist in some tension.  I believe they can be kept in balance, so long as all parties recognize the need for balance and avoid over-reaching.

Experience suggests that throughout the update process, it will be difficult to maintain a balance that is satisfactory to the great majority of Islanders.  The Council has a role to play in affirming the importance of that balance, and designing a process that will improve the public understanding of measures that will support, for the foreseeable future, both private property rights and the welfare of the community.

3. Foster diversity of the residents of the Island, its most precious resource.

In its present demographic makeup and in what it may become, diversity in the Island’s population wears many faces.  Bainbridge is not typical of communities in the Puget Sound region, but “special” in ways that excite local pride and may also be problematic.

Racially and ethnically, we are not especially diverse, but more so than we were twenty years ago.  Relative to other communities, a high percentage of our citizens are 55 and older, and a low percentage are between 25 and 40.  Many in the community are affluent, to the extent that affluence rather than a middle-class income may be regarded as the norm.  It is not the case, however, that any single group or set of values dominates our local culture; diversity in backgrounds, lifestyles, and interests defines our social fabric and civic life.

Can individuals and families of modest means feel secure on Bainbridge?  Does our community contain and support its own service sector, or do people in low-wage jobs and professions have to live elsewhere and travel long distances to meet our needs?

The update process should involve gathering and interpreting up-to-date information on our population, our economy, and any trends apparent in the Puget Sound region.  We need to be prepared for both prosperity and economic hardships in the decades ahead.

In the broad, basic sector of health, housing, and human services, Bainbridge Island has for some years lacked a comprehensive agency for planning and delivery of services.  The Comp Plan review and update should consider whether this is a problem, and if so, propose responses.

2. Protect the water resources of the Island.

One way of measuring – or, if you will, worrying about – the ‘carrying capacity’ of Bainbridge Island involves trying to determine how many people our aquifers and water systems can support.  In recent decades the Island’s population has gone through periods of rapid growth, and we may see rapid growth again in the near future.  (Lately, I believe, our average household size has gone down while the number of households has increased.)

It is hard to see how the number of people who move to Bainbridge can be controlled, but our water resources can be protected by conservation measures, by land use and housing policies that conserve open space and promote aquifer recharge, and by efficient management of water and sewer systems.

We need to be prepared for the impacts of climate change.  As life becomes more difficult in other parts of the U. S. and the world, more people may be moving to our region.  Rising tides in Puget Sound may increase the risk of salt water intrusion in some shallow aquifers.  Seasonal rainfall patterns may change drastically, affecting aquifer recharge.  Now is the time to plan for mitigation and for adaptation to these vulnerabilities.

1. Preserve the special character of the Island, which includes forested areas, meadows, farms, marine views, and winding roads bordered by dense vegetation.

The first version of the Comprehensive Plan referred to “the rural character of the Island,” and this term did not pass muster: the idea of rural character inside a city was too paradoxical, so “special” (an ‘as you like it’ word) was substituted.  Over time, that special character has been somewhat ‘suburbanized.’  (The process began, of course, long before incorporation and creation of the Comp Plan, and resistance to it had much to do with the decision to form an island-wide government.)

Those changes in our built environment and its natural setting have been market-driven, and I would say the consequences have been a mixed blessing.  I would also say that preservation of the Island’s ‘special character’ is far from being a lost cause.

I am sure there will be a concerted effort to constrain, and perhaps to slow down, residential development in the areas outside of Winslow, especially in the areas zoned for lower density (R-0.4 and R-1).  Such changes in the policies governing community development can’t be accomplished in the Comprehensive Plan, but the update process is, in my opinion, the proper context for the deep conversations we need to have.  I will look to the City Council to provide a policy framework for those conversations.

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Comprehensive Plan, Cultural Change, Demographic Groups, Economy, Environment, Finite Natural Resources, Housing, income inequality, Island values, Middle class, People, Property Rights, Values | Comments Off

The Comprehensive Plan’s Five Overriding Principles (Part I)

Jon Quitslund

“Development should be based on the principle that the Island’s environmental resources are finite and must be maintained at a sustainable level.”

What I’ve just quoted is the fifth of the Five Overriding Principles that are stated prominently in the introductory segment of our current Comprehensive Plan.  (The Comp Plan, created in 1994 and revised in 2004, can be accessed on the City’s website; the Introduction begins with a Vision Statement and a list of Goals, followed by the Principles.)

The challenge ahead for citizens of Bainbridge Island, as we approach the two-year process of re-examining and updating the Plan, is to achieve a broadly accepted understanding of what Development means on Bainbridge Island: what sorts of development have occurred over the past twenty years or so, and what can be planned for (and, on the other hand, prevented or mitigated) in the years ahead.

“Development” is prominent among the bugaboo words in our vocabulary; it seems that whatever form new development takes, some people will strenuously take exception to it.  Change, in our beloved community, is unsettling, and even people who find a lot to dislike in the status quo are inclined to feel that, at least in the built environment, change is likely to make things worse, not better.

Still, we had better realize that we don’t live in Brigadoon.  Look around you: what sorts of property development do you see, and what can be anticipated in the foreseeable future?  Given the undeveloped and under-developed properties in all parts of the Island, we had better anticipate change and try to shape it in ways that are beneficial.

Going back to that fifth principle: What does it mean to maintain “environmental resources . . . at a sustainable level”?  Are we doing that now?  How can we attain that level?

The concept of sustainability is a good one, in spite of all the flak it has attracted: anyone capable of grownup thinking and behavior has to admit that only prudent long-range planning can provide for a decent future.  Of course, as a concept, sustainability is nebulous; it should be understood as an aspirational ideal, made real only in practice, in cooperation with others, over time and through trial and error.

While I believe that the obligation to update our Comprehensive Plan comes at a good time, I’m not sure how far the political will of the community is going to carry us on the path to that “sustainable level.”  Just as “sustainable” can’t be defined in advance, our political will has to be discovered in the process of working together.

An efficient process and good results depend, I think, on policy guidance from the City Council, working in collaboration with the City Manager.  As I understand it, the Department of Planning and Community Development (PCD) are wary of a process that’s perceived as “staff driven”: they want to preside over a review and revision of the Comp Plan that is shaped by citizens’ interests and values.

There will certainly be an elaborate plan for citizen participation, and success with such a plan will require structure, a schedule, and guiding principles.  It’s important to recognize, also, that to be effective, the Comp Plan requires implementing language in the Municipal Code: we’ll have to figure out how that can be achieved most effectively.

Are the Five Overriding Principles in the current Comp Plan still current and valid? I will look to the Council to examine and discuss them, either reaffirming or revising them so that all participants in the update process have a solid frame of reference for their work.

In the second part of this essay, I will offer some comments and questions prompted by the other four principles.

 

Posted in Community, Comprehensive Plan, Cooperation, Cultural Change, Economy, Environment, Finite Natural Resources, Island values, Place, Values | Comments Off

NO on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Jon Quitslund

keystone pipeline protestors“Guard well our human chain,/ Watch well you keep it strong,/As long as sun will shine.” (Pete Seeger, 1919-2014)

I am writing in anticipation of a demonstration in Seattle on Monday, February 3, saying “NO” in response to the State Department’s final Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Chances are, you’ll read this some time after February 3rd, but the issues will remain with us for months to come, and there will be other occasions to voice your opinion.

The XL Pipeline decision has been pending for a long time, and still more time will pass before the buck stops and President Obama announces his decision.  First, Secretary Kerry has to speak his mind, and right now he’s dealing with more urgent business.

There’s background and a context for all of this, and I want to address some of that.  The recent State of the Union message didn’t contain any hints at the President’s inclination on the Pipeline; it only made clear that he considers other things more important – inequality and unemployment, for instance, and Republicans’ refusal to cooperate or compromise.

In the days before the State of the Union message, The New Yorker published a long article by David Remnick based on wide-ranging conversations with the President.  It’s revealing and appealing; it captures Mr. Obama’s character and the workings of his mind at a crucial point in his presidency.

One passage in the article jumped out at me, begging for interpretation.  Remnick asked Mr. Obama “what he felt he must get done before leaving office.”  The question led him to compare his circumstances to those faced by two other presidents: “I think we are fortunate at the moment that we do not face a crisis of the scale and scope that Lincoln or F.D.R. faced. So I think it’s unrealistic to suggest that I can narrow my focus the way those two Presidents did.”

This means, I take it, that although he doesn’t have the Civil War or World War II to fight, he faces challenges on several fronts that are harder to manage successfully.

He goes on, however, to narrow the focus: “I will measure myself at the end of my Presidency in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class, and reversing the trend toward economic bifurcation in this society.”

I want to praise this emphasis on mending the flaws in our social fabric and controlling the economic forces that have created a widening gap between the rich and the rest of us.  For too long, too many Democrats have been unwilling to acknowledge these problems, let alone do something about them.

The President’s priorities are appropriate, and politically apt, but it will take more than a jobs program, an increase in the minimum wage, and more support for education to make lasting progress toward those goals.  My concern is that the basic conditions of our environment, globally and locally, are likely to undermine any short-term progress.

Over the long haul, everyone’s wellbeing will be threatened, or at least compromised, by the drastic consequences of climate change.  In many parts of the world the problems are urgent already.  Googling the scary phrase climate chaos, I was startled to find that it’s the name of a popular online adventure game designed for kids.  Unfortunately, sometimes life imitates art, and in this instance it’s not funny.

Back in May of last year, writing in the Financial Times, the eminent economist Martin Wolf took up the topic “Why the world faces climate chaos.”  He notes that “risk of calamitous change is large,” and he lists several reasons why, on a global scale, very little has been done to acknowledge the size of the problem and begin to address it.  Mr. Wolf asks, “So why are we behaving like this?”

“The first and deepest reason is that, as the civilization of ancient Rome was built on slaves, ours is built on fossil fuels. … Putting carbon into the atmosphere is what we do.”  How much longer will we be bound to continue doing business as usual?

The climate for thinking and taking action in response to what scientists call “carbon forcing” has changed somewhat in recent months.  Al Gore, for example, has come out strongly against the continued extraction of tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada, and the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

According to some accounts of the State Department’s Supplemental E I S, President Obama will have a hard time justifying a decision against the pipeline.  I’ve seen other accounts, however, that read that massive document differently.  They stop short of predicting what Obama will do, but find support for arguments that the pipeline is absolutely not “in our nation’s interest,” which is the crowning criterion for the final decision.

As I understand it, the State Department’s analysis was constrained by a basic principle of diplomacy: respect for Canada’s sovereignty meant that whether the tar sands oil should or would be extracted was not to be considered in the calculation of the pipeline’s environmental impact.

But as Al Gore, Bill McKibben, K. C. Golden, and others are pointing out, that analysis begs the most important questions.  Should the hard-to-transport and hard-to-refine crappy stuff from Alberta’s waste lands be extracted, or left alone?  Can our planet’s atmosphere and the oceans and earth digest all of the carbon-based gases and noxious by-products entailed in this enormous and reckless industry?

I’m going to end this post abruptly, leaving those questions hanging.  There is so much more to say, and I’ll come back to this subject and its local implications in another post, as soon as possible.

 

Posted in Activism, Climate Change, disaster capitalism, Economy, Energy, Environment, Finite Natural Resources, income inequality, Organized protest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

For the New Year

Jon Quitslund

“A soul that is not confused is not a soul.”  Howard Norman starts an appealing memoir, I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), with this line from a twelfth-century Japanese poet, Saigyo.  I take heart from that statement, because confusion seems to be the default setting for my waking state.

There’s my New Year’s resolution: to make peace with my confusion, and to shrug off my habit of worrying about it, struggling against it, feeling both ashamed and unique in my suffering.  I do enjoy clarity, and sometimes it comes without being called.

Perhaps the example of Howard Norman’s embrace of confusion, and his ability to construct lucid stories out of the blocks and fragments of remembered experience, will make my own attempts at writing somewhat easier and more satisfying as this new year unfolds.

Lately, on account of the season and the holiday comings and goings of family, my best times have been spent in the kitchen, but I’ve also been reading with an omnivore’s appetite.

Along with my friends in the Environmental Book Group, before Christmas I was involved in choosing books for the coming year.  As soon as the reading list was settled, I ordered as many of them as I could from AbeBooks.com.  (Eagle Harbor Books gets a share of my business, as does Amazon, but AbeBooks.com provides access to a vast network of dealers in second-hand, overstock, and remaindered books, usually priced very low.)

Books for the coming year’s discussions have started coming in, and I’ll mention two that I’ve begun reading.  When I tell what they’re about you will understand better why I need to embrace confusion: the real world resists any single-minded response.

If you’re interested in agriculture and efforts to develop more sustainable policies and practices, you may already be familiar with the writings and agronomical projects of Wes Jackson.  He and Wendell Berry are old friends, similarly committed to the revitalization of rural economies.  In Salina, Kansas, near where he grew up, Wes Jackson established The Land Institute in 1976, and it is still going strong – debt-free, with an annual budget of $2.8 M.

{{The Land Institute website is worth a visit, and under its ‘About Us’ you’ll find a link to a NYTimes column by Mark Bittman, “Now This Is Natural Food” (dateline 10.22.13).}}

Wes Jackson has been publishing important books on agriculture since 1980, with New Roots for Agriculture, and in recent years he’s been prolific as a writer.  The book I recommended for my book group is Consulting the Genius of the Place; An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture (Counterpoint, 2010).  It’s an even better book than I expected.  It summarizes his life’s work and its core principles in an orderly series of short chapters, each one eye-opening and full of surprises.

As different as the parts are (autobiographical anecdotes, reflections on the origins and long history of agriculture, an account of soil depletion and conservation efforts in the American heartland, and an explanation of the Land Institute’s mission to counteract the unsustainable practices of monoculture and industrial agriculture), the parts fit together in support of an overarching purpose: to overcome the human tendency to divide and dominate, exploiting parts at the expense of the whole fabric of creation.

Here’s part of Jackson’s broad purpose statement: “Concern is growing that human activity as a whole has become insupportable, the entire planet having fallen into deficit spending, ecologically speaking. But if our species is to find a road leading to great resilience and sustainability, an ecologically sound agriculture can – must – take the lead.”

With a quiet, down-to-earth eloquence, Jackson provides compelling reasons why concern for the survival of our culture, if not of our species, is growing.  His message is not doom-laden, although he acknowledges the confused state in which most of us, and most of the institutions we rely upon, are stuck today.  Can we find the road that leads to resilience and sustainability?

Jackson explains why agriculture needs to play a leading role in the reformation of our culture.  “Agriculture has the discipline of ecology and evolutionary biology to help us produce food in properly functioning ecosystems. All visions of a sustainable or resilient society must rely on renewable resources. Other spheres of human activity do not have that advantage. Agriculture, broadly defined, may be the only artifact in current civilization where that potential resides.”

I am convinced that that potential exists; it’s being developed not only in the Land Institute’s experiments and demonstration projects, but in the viral spread of interest in small-scale local food production, across the U. S. and in other parts of the world.  So we have begun – but only begun – the real work of resilient communities.

Most of us, myself included, remain dependent on Town & Country, Safeway, Costco, and Trader Joe’s, and that must give us pause, but what’s marginal today may be part of the mainstream tomorrow.  (I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen of the plans for T & C in downtown Winslow.)  However, there’s nothing inevitable about that kind of change: it will take concerted efforts, both at the local level and from the top down, to change habits and transform or replace the big players in our market places.

With so many powerful interests and institutions whose very existence depends upon exploitative practices, it is hard to see how a truly sustainable society can emerge, prior to a systemic crash or collapse.  And will the overlords only consolidate their power when that time comes?

That question arises in response to the other book I want to mention here.  In The Shock Doctrine; The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Metropolitan Books, 2007), Naomi Klein published a book that was timely and prophetic when it appeared on the verge of the Great Recession, and its combination of historical inquiry and political analysis remains radical and pertinent today.

{{Ms. Klein’s next book, to be published some time this year, will deal with global climate change and the likelihood of disastrous consequences.  It has already created some controversy, because she finds fault with the business as usual responses of many environmentalists.}}

The Shock Doctrine could not be more different from Wes Jackson’s book.  It could be called ‘investigative journalism,’ but that phrase doesn’t do it justice.  The book is deeply researched and well documented as well as being fiercely opinionated.

I’ve seen several predictions that 2014 will be a year in which the festering problem of inequality – of income and opportunities, and also of political power – will be foremost among the issues that decide political contests.  Klein’s book brings historical depth and global scope to bear on that issue, and her radicalism responds effectively to the radical values and policies now being espoused on the far right side of our political spectrum.

The Shock Doctrine began as “research into the intersection of superprofits and megadisasters.”  In finished form, a book of more than 500 pages, its scope is broader than that, reaching across “three decades of erasing and remaking the world,” from CIA-sponsored experiments with shock treatments and brain-washing techniques to the excesses of the Bush-era war in Iraq and the mixture of inept and opportunistic responses to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

I’ve just begun the book.  I have some doubts about the way Klein connects the dots in her detail-rich argument, identifying causes and consequences and interpreting intentions, but I plan to read the book carefully and learn a lot from it.

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Our “Island Values”: What Are They?

Jon Quitslund

A while ago the managers of Inside Bainbridge, an invaluable online source for news and commentary on local affairs, put up “Tips for Bainbridge Island Newbies (& Visitors).”  I found the tips both witty and informative.  Among the comments in response was one from “Marty,” and it got me thinking.

“Now that you have tackled Island Etiquette,” he said, “would you be willing to write an article on ‘Island Values’?  I regularly read letters to the editor that speak of ‘Island Values.’  Having been here 5 years, I can’t figure out what ‘Island Values’ mean.  It reminds me of people who use the term ‘family values.’  It’s like code words for insiders and I would love to know the real code.”

Like I said, this got me thinking.  I posted an off-the-cuff reply, and somewhat to my surprise, it was published.  But ‘Island values’ are a big subject, somewhat enigmatic and therefore troublesome.  The topic is worth considering at length, and perhaps I can prompt some discussion.

It seems to me that our local cultural values favor a sustainability agenda up to a point, but also put some obstacles in the way of serious thought and radical action.

In my short reply to Marty, I said that Island values “have mostly to do with ‘fitting in,’ not ‘sticking out.’”  And Marty is right in his sense that there are unwritten and even unspoken expectations in our local culture: you may not know what they are unless you’ve crossed one of the invisible lines.

The “real code” is neither as complicated nor as strict as it is, say, in Japan.  Bainbridge society has never been homogeneous, nor is it caste-based.  We are still rather clannish or clique-ish, but with a larger and more diverse population, and much more going on than in the old days, there are many possible focal points for anyone’s effort to ‘fit in.’

Even though nowadays the dominant culture on Bainbridge is in the liberal mainstream, sometimes tending left of liberal, the Island values alluded to in such places as letters to the editor are rather conventional and conservative.  Island values do change, but resistance to change is a basic ingredient in the mix.

For example: both in private homes and public buildings, architecture that is affirmatively ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’ is rare on Bainbridge.  When plans for the Bainbridge Island Art Museum were first presented, they were widely criticized as ‘too modern’: in its prominent location, the museum was expected to fit in, not to ‘make a statement.’  The Grow Community development has faced similar criticism.

In a number of ways, for reasons I can guess at but don’t entirely understand, our local culture tends to encourage ‘groupthink.’  Even very thoughtful people don’t engage much in dialogue with people who disagree with them, and as a consequence they don’t have to reflect critically on their own principles.

Most Islanders are averse to the risks and consequences of open disagreement with other Islanders.  (In private and among friends, of course, there’s plenty of talk about the people for whom we have, as my mom used to say, “a minimum of high regard.”)  ‘Civility’ places high among Island values, and this is a good trait in our local political culture, but that strength carries with it a soft underbelly.  We shouldn’t be afraid of open discord on real issues, and the usual circle-the-wagons response to criticism doesn’t serve us well.

Why, when factions develop in the City Council and some voices are loud or shrill, is it taken as a sign of dysfunction and a reason for citizens to deplore everything that goes on in City Hall?  This is an area where, in my opinion, wishful thinking about getting along by keeping disagreements out of sight serves only to make matters worse.  Unacknowledged, or met with a kneejerk response, disagreements don’t go away, and sometimes they fester.

Sometimes, in defense of Island values, it’s necessary to lodge a protest.  The scope and meaning of those values got a good test over the course of several months while the proposal for a shopping center on the northeast corner of the High School Road and Hwy 305 intersection made its way through the permitting process.

At first, unhappiness with the ‘Visconsi project’ was limited to a few individual voices, and expressions of outrage were tinged with uncertainty about what could be done.  Gradually, however, leaders emerged who were persistent in studying what was being proposed and considering whether or not it was consistent with provisions in our Comprehensive Plan, the zoning ordinance, and other regulations.

By the way, anyone seriously interested in understanding ‘Island values’ ought to study the Comprehensive Plan: its primary purpose is to articulate our community’s dominant cultural values, doing so in relation to our physical, economic, and demographic circumstances.

Simultaneous with the development of a very broad-based community opposition to the shopping center project and its impact on traffic and safety in its neighborhood, the seven members of the Planning Commission (myself included) studied all the information presented to them and sought to determine whether to recommend approval of the proposed development’s site plan and conditional use application, approval under certain conditions, or rejection.

The Planning Commission’s decision could not be based on anything so nebulous as ‘Island values,’ but those values are spelled out in the Comprehensive Plan and other applicable regulations and design guidelines; certain state laws also apply.

As is well known, at its meeting on November 14, 2013, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of the Visconsi site plan.  The validity of this recommendation and the reasons given for it will be tested in a quasi-judicial public hearing before the City’s Hearing Examiner.  A date for this hearing has not yet been announced.

Cultural values do much to define a community, but by their nature they are in flux and subject to interpretation.  Events may clarify them: our recent election was unusual in that it involved two informal but well-defined slates of candidates for the three open seats on the City Council, and the result was a clear victory for one group over the other.  So the hopes of many people were vindicated, while others were disappointed.

I will end with some thoughts on another test of our values, which was an issue during the Council election but has not yet been settled.

The prolonged process of updating our Shoreline Management Program has revealed a deep fault line in our cultural values.  Universally, it seems, we value our natural environment and our situation in the middle of Puget Sound, but Islanders disagree passionately on the sort of regulations that should govern the use and enjoyment of our shorelines.

The state Department of Ecology’s guidelines make it clear that the public’s interest in the ecology of Puget Sound and the nearshore environment must be reconciled carefully with the rights of shoreline property owners, but at every meeting devoted to discussion of the SMP, irate citizens expressed their conviction that some part of the program, if not the entire regulatory shebang, imposes on their security and their rights as property owners.

The idea of self-government is absolutely fundamental to our Island values, but that idea means different things to different folks, and maybe some differences are incompatible.

Self-government was the civic principle behind incorporation of our partly rural, partly suburban island as an odd sort of city, legally as well as geographically somewhat separate from Kitsap county.  But how well is our government aligned with our values?

If the right to self-government is a civic, communitarian principle, it is also an individualistic, libertarian principle: the desire to be left alone by government, and to associate freely with like-minded friends and neighbors, runs deep in our community’s history.  And it runs sometimes in cross-currents, both at odds with Island values and in support of them.

At the most recent Council meeting devoted to public comment on the SMP, I heard some extreme and ill-founded objections to its regulations, but I also heard what seemed to me authentic complaints from people who feel that their commitment to stewardship of their property and the natural environment has been devalued and imposed upon.

I hope that over time, the principles animating the SMP will be better understood and some of the rough edges and nitty-gritty details will be rubbed away.

Posted in Activism, Community, Cultural Change, Elections, Island values, Organized protest, Property Rights, Shoreline Management Program, Shorelines, Values | Comments Off

My Sense of Place (II), Concluded

Jon Quitslund

This essay was composed in two separate time frames, beginning more than a month ago. I’ve revised the first part but some awkwardness remains.

In the bright and warm weather earlier in the month, I spent the best parts of my days outdoors – walking on the tide flats, catching up on yard work, splitting and stacking firewood, or carrying a heavy backpack up and over Baker Hill to get in shape for a long hike in the Olympics.

With my mind left free to sift through my convictions and impressions, I considered the place where we live from several points of view. What I most wanted to discuss in this essay were not our island’s natural advantages, important as they are (I celebrated some of them back in May, in Part I of this series).

No, I wanted to develop some thoughts about the people of Bainbridge Island – past, present, and future.  In tandem with the natural forces of time, tides, our long growing season, and the sun in its cycles, it is our human population, generation after generation, that has made (and occasionally unmade) the place we occupy in Puget Sound.

It’s useful to distinguish between ‘population’ and ‘community.’ Both entities are complicated here, and in flux, but over the course of decades, there are certain continuities in each. To my way of thinking, the ‘community’ of Bainbridge Island is rooted in a set of demographic facts, but on top of all the data and in addition to our day-to-day dealings with people, our hearts and minds construct around us an imagined community, rooted in our hopes and fears, that is no more than half real.

The imagined community of Bainbridge Island is, for most people most of the time, a good thing: a source of satisfaction, meaning, and value. And it’s natural to hold on tight to what we have – to fear loss, and to construe change as always likely to offer more loss than gain. So we strive, individually and in organized interest groups, to manage change to our own advantage.

I’ll bet you can see already where I’m going with this. What happens to the community when various interest groups are driven by a self-centered fear of loss – when there is no general agreement on what is to be gained through efforts to manage change?

Maybe we should set aside all talk of ‘the community,’ recognizing that there are, and have been ever since the pioneer days, several different communities here, sometimes separate and sometimes in conflict, rubbing shoulders pleasurably on special occasions, but seldom peaceably engaged with each other. We don’t have much experience, in either large or small community groups, dealing with divisive issues in search of satisfying compromises.

Several reasons for these unhappy circumstances can be identified. Some are embedded in our history; others can be traced to sources far from our shores – to ideological principles and agendas that can overpower the common sense that might otherwise prevail in our supposedly nonpartisan local politics.

These are generalizations, I know; they will have to do for now. I started writing this piece several weeks ago, and I got stuck, plagued with a debilitating case of writer’s block. I had brought a lot of mixed-up emotion to the subject, and an acute appreciation for its complexity, but it was all a muddle.

I couldn’t find a way to organize my thoughts so they would be appealing and useful to others. I wanted to write about a general loss of trust in our social / political arrangements here on Bainbridge, and I found that I couldn’t trust myself.

So I ended the incomplete first draft of this piece with this: “Some time away from the Island is bound to help, and in a few days I’ll be far away. Hiking in the high country of the Olympics, getting acquainted with a group of men whom I know only superficially, is bound to clear my mind and reorient my spirit. On my return, I’ll either pick up my thoughts about this place where I left off, or make a fresh start.”

II

Now here’s another essay, another run at the subject of our community and its discontents. (The word ‘essay’ means ‘attempt’ or ‘trial.’) I’ll try to be constructive, but I have to be honest.

I feel revived. The trip to the High Divide and the Seven Lakes Basin was strenuous, an occasion for nine men with different backgrounds to stretch out, going their own ways and then coming together, sharing stories and emotions at a level that men don’t often reach with each other.

On my first day back in Winslow I happened to meet a recent Bainbridge High School graduate, someone I greatly admire, who has already stepped into an activist’s conscience-driven life. We sat for a while outside the Blackbird, comparing notes on ‘what’s up.’ She’s ready for college, and she has the weeks before heading off to Bellingham planned too.

I thought: this is someone who really ‘gets it.’ I just wish more people twice her age were as clear about themselves and the world’s big issues as this young woman.

I’ve had other positive experiences lately. As a member of the Planning Commission I’ve been involved in a couple of public meetings where some good work got done: people aired their differences amicably, thought twice, and avoided both rash actions and an excess of caution.

In the middle of a sunny Saturday morning, my wife and I joined the crowd at the Farmers’ Market and then did some shopping along Winslow Way. It was just an ordinary day, and how could it have been any closer to perfection?

Then there’s the other side of the picture. The time available to citizens for sending comments on the Shoreline Master Program update came to an end a few days ago. Copies of several comments showed up in my inbox – most of them from the Bainbridge Defense Fund, a prolific generator of email that I sometimes take seriously but seldom find persuasive.

The comment on our SMP that most concerned me came not from a shoreline property owner on Bainbridge but from the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a California-based organization that seems to be active wherever property rights are threatened, or (as with ‘Obamacare’) a case can be made that big government has, once again, gone too far. The 11-page brief was signed by an attorney named Brian T. Hodges, who works out of the PLF’s Bellevue office.

I was moved to write a comment of my own – a non-lawyer’s attempt to rebut, in a few pages, some claims that I found extreme, intellectually shabby, and at odds with a common-sense reading of the SMP regulations.

The ideological agenda of the PLF has carried a great deal of weight with the self-appointed leaders of our local shoreline property owners in their battle against the regulatory regime of the Shoreline Management Program. And those leaders worked persistently, with a simple message and some organizational skill, to gather and hold together a loyal following. How much they accomplished remains to be seen: we may have months to wait for the Department of Ecology’s response to our SMP. In the meantime, I believe, the program’s harshest critics have done a great deal of damage, arousing antagonisms that won’t settle down any time soon.

At the end of a long, frustrating process, many people are more convinced than ever that the SMP update was flawed from the start and made worse along the way. This is due in large measure to the uncompromising attitudes and exaggerations of property rights advocates: they have never acknowledged the many concessions to their interests that were either present in the SMP’s foundation or introduced in the course of its development and revision.

It has been difficult for me to articulate my objections to opinions held firmly by a significant number of Island residents.  I don’t want to impugn the interests of shoreline property owners: I’m sure that for the most part they are as reliable stewards of their property and the environment as the rest of us. So this is not about a lack of trust on my part, or a lack of respect for fundamental property rights. I think other proponents of the SMP’s regulations would say the same.

It’s the ideological objections to environmental regulations that cause problems for me. I hate seeing Bainbridge Island – this beautiful place, made more attractive by so many forms of generous civic activism – turned into a beachhead in the tedious cultural war being waged by the Pacific Legal Foundation and like-minded organizations against legitimate environmental regulations.

 

Posted in Activism, Community, Cooperation, Environment, People, Place, Property Rights, Shoreline Management Program, Shorelines, Stewardship | Tagged | Comments Off

My Sense of Place (II)

Jon Quitslund

In the bright and warm weather lately, I’ve spent the best parts of my days outdoors – walking on the tide flats, catching up on yard work, splitting and stacking firewood, or carrying a weighted backpack up and over Baker Hill to get in shape for a long hike in the Olympics.

With my mind left free to sift through my convictions and impressions, I’ve been considering the place where we live from several points of view. I find that what I most want to discuss in this essay are not our island’s natural advantages, important as they are (I celebrated some of them back in May, in Part I of this series).

No, I want to develop some thoughts about the people of Bainbridge Island – past, present, and future.  In tandem with the natural forces of time, tides, our long growing season, the sun in its cycles, it is our human population, generation after generation, that has made (and occasionally unmade) the place we occupy in Puget Sound.

It’s useful to distinguish between ‘population’ and ‘community.’ Both entities are complicated here, and in flux, but over the course of decades, there are certain continuities in each. To my way of thinking, the ‘community’ of Bainbridge Island is rooted in a set of demographic facts, but on top of all the data, and in addition to our day-to-day dealings with the people around us, our hearts and minds construct around us an imagined community, rooted in our hopes and fears, that is no more than half real.

The imagined community of Bainbridge Island is, for most people most of the time, a good thing: a source of satisfaction, meaning, and value. And it’s natural to hold on tight to what we have – to fear loss, and to construe change as likely to offer more loss than gain. So we strive, individually and in organized interest groups, to manage change to our own advantage.

I’ll bet you can see already where I’m going with this. What happens to the community of Bainbridge Island when various interest groups are driven by a self-centered fear of loss – when there is no general agreement on what is to be gained through efforts to manage change?

Maybe we should set aside all talk of ‘the community,’ recognizing that there are, and have been ever since the pioneer days, several different communities here, sometimes separate and sometimes in conflict, rubbing shoulders pleasurably on special occasions, but seldom peaceably engaged with each other, dealing with a divisive issue in the spirit of compromise.

Several reasons for these unhappy circumstances can be identified. Some are embedded in our history; others can be traced to sources far from our shores – to ideological principles and agendas that can overpower the common sense and compromise that might otherwise prevail in our supposedly nonpartisan local politics.

These are generalizations, I know; they will have to do for now. I started writing this piece more than two weeks ago, and I got stuck, with a debilitating case of writer’s block. I brought a lot of mixed-up emotion to the subject, and an acute appreciation for its complexity, but it was all a muddle.

I couldn’t find a way to organize my thoughts so they would be appealing and useful to others. I wanted to write about a general loss of trust in our social / political arrangements here on Bainbridge, and I found that I couldn’t trust myself.

Some time away from the Island is bound to help, and in a few days I’ll be far away. Hiking in the high country of the Olympics, getting acquainted with a group of men whom I know only superficially, is bound to clear my mind and reorient my spirit. On my return, I’ll either pick up my thoughts about this place where I left off, or make a fresh start.

Posted in Community, Cooperation, Cultural Change, Individuality, Place, Stewardship, Values | Comments Off

Bainbridge Island’s Green Power Challenge

Jon Quitslund

How much of the electricity used in your home comes from ‘green’ sources? A fair number of households on Bainbridge are now equipped with solar panels, generating for themselves some, if not all, of the power they use.  And a larger number of homes and businesses (1,125 customers as of mid-April of this year) pay a little extra each month on their PSE bills so the electricity they use comes from renewable energy sources.

The number of green energy customers here could be much larger – and should be, considering the amount of angst one hears expressed about increases in atmospheric carbon and the dangers posed, locally and globally, by runaway consumption of fossil fuels.

Did you know that 48% of the electricity PSE generates comes from fossil fuels? (You may have seen an even bigger number; 32% from coal and 16% from natural gas are the state-certified figures from 2011.) The company advertises these facts because they want to be less dependent on coal and gas. And PSE is making real progress: the company now owns and operates enough wind-powered generators to supply approximately 10% of the basic portfolio.

PSE is eager to reward communities in which increasing numbers of customers withdraw their support from polluters and choose to promote alternative energy production. Subscribing to green power takes the company beyond what I-937 (the Clean Energy initiative passed in 2006) requires.

In the local Green Power Challenge that was announced in April, adding 125 more customers on Bainbridge to the list of green power supporters will get the city a $20,000 grant to support a new solar energy project – at the High School, perhaps, or at Wilkes Middle School.

To make things more interesting, PSE has set up a competition: Bainbridge Island is involved with four other communities (Anacortes, Kirkland, Snoqualmie, and Tumwater) to see which can enroll the highest percentage of new customers for green power. Winning that contest will be worth another $20,000.

It ought to be easy to reach the goal of 125 new customers, but getting ahead of our competition and finishing the year in that position will be harder. Win or lose, I think the race will be worthwhile for all concerned. A clean energy future is the over-arching goal, the ‘real work.’

Who is ahead now in the competition? Tumwater! According to PSE’s records as of the end of May, enrollment is up on Bainbridge by .20% (that’s two-tenths of one percent), while Tumwater’s figure is 0.63%.  We’re at mid-year, and we haven’t really gotten started in response to the PSE challenge.

At this point you may want to stop reading and enroll in the Green Power program, which you can do online at PSE.com/GPChallenge, or by phone with a PSE energy advisor at 1-800-562-1482 (any weekday, 8 a. m. to 5 p. m.). You can purchase 100% green power, which at current rates increases your monthly bill by about 10%, or you can purchase specific amounts at the rate of $2 for 160 kWh, for a minimum of $4 per month, up to $14.

My wife and I have not been highly successful in our efforts to conserve electricity; our bills over the past twelve months have ranged between a low of $50.69 in August of last year and a high of $309.51 in February of 2013, for an average of $144.30.

Not having done much in support of the RePower Bainbridge goal of reducing demand for electricity, I decided that purchasing green power was the least I could do.  I signed up for 100% seven months ago, wondering why it had taken me so long.  The cost, between December 2012 and June of this year, has averaged $23.04 per month. This discretionary expense is something I can afford, and it has meaning and value for me. I am participating in a small way, just as I do in voting and with my support for political and non-profit organizations, in positive change and the development of something I believe in.

How does the small amount extra that I am charged on my monthly bill finance the purchase of my electricity from alternative energy producers? I’ll try to explain that, but first let me provide a few facts about the ‘product content’ for PSE basic service and for the green power program.

Cathie Currie, a Sustainable Bainbridge board member who works for PSE, has provided me with information on the green power program and connected me with Heather Mulligan, a colleague in the Bellevue office: Heather has furnished the best available figures on the sources of PSE’s power.

In the 2011 portfolio (2012 figures won’t be state-certified until later this summer), 50% comes from ‘large hydro,’ 32% is generated from coal, and 16% from natural gas. The chart is completed by 1% from nuclear power, and 1% from ‘other’ sources.

On the chart describing the green energy mix as delivered in 2012, 27% came from ‘low-impact hydro,’ 58% from wind, 5% from landfill gas, 9% from livestock methane, and 1% from solar sources. The amount of energy available from wind farms in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho is increasing: it’s estimated to be 74% of the mix in 2013. Solar energy may be up to 4% for this year, while new hydro power declines.

The percentages on these two charts tell one story about dramatic differences in the currently available sources of electric power. There’s another story in the huge differences in scale between the basic program, which produced 24,517,042 megawatt hours of electric power in 2012, and the green power program, which sold 365,796 megawatt hours that year. So green power is 1.5% of the whole PSE picture: the new Jerusalem is still a long way off.

PSE is required by Washington’s public utility commission to provide electricity to its customers at the lowest possible rates. PSE customers who support green energy production can change the demand and supply calculus, so that over time more energy, at lower prices, will come from clean and renewable sources. That’s going to involve continuing investment and innovation.

Let’s hope that the big old power plants burning coal and polluting the air are on the way out, and let’s work toward that goal, but there’s a collateral goal: PSE customers will need other reliable and cost-effective sources for any power that doesn’t come from dirty coal and natural gas obtained by fracking.

You may wonder how the market for green power works. It’s complicated, and I don’t understand all the transactions, but I can tell part of the story, and maybe you’ll agree with me that an appealing story about economic relationships provides value added for customers and investors.

Obviously, when you opt into the green power program the electricity you consume isn’t separate from the mix that serves everyone else.  Whatever you pay, however, finances the purchase of power from regional companies that would otherwise not be participants in PSE’s market.  And PSE doesn’t make a profit from these transactions: state law prohibits that.

PSE contracts with an innovative energy provider (e. g., Qualco Energy in Monroe, WA, a nonprofit that turns pollution from dairy farms into electric power and compost); the provider has a reliable customer and a predictable income. Part of PSE’s cost, borne by green power customers like me, is in the form of ‘renewable energy credits,’ also known as ‘Green Tags,’ which can be sold or traded in the energy marketplace: they assign a dollar value to the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

The benefits of the Green Tag system to a host of small- and large-scale producers, distributors, and consumers of energy are explained well on various websites. Also, you can learn a lot from the websites maintained by several of PSE’s providers of green power: Qualco Energy, Stateline Wind Energy (Umatilla County, OR, and Walla Walla County, WA), and the Nine Canyon Wind Project (Benton County, WA) are three that I picked from the list of ‘Program Resources’ on the PSE Green Power website.

Along with Cathie Currie and others who are promoting the Green Power Challenge on Bainbridge Island, I will be keeping track of the numbers of households and businesses that sign up for PSE’s green power between now and the end of the year.

Why can’t we achieve a 100% increase in enrollments before the snow flies?

Posted in Activism, Altruism, Climate Change, Cultural Change, Energy, Environment, Finite Natural Resources, Green Power, Values | Comments Off