The future may be getting hotter, but it’s still a bright one

Our blog focuses on big topics. We have never shied away from tackling big projects and issues and bringing you interviews with leading experts and influencers. Over the next year we are going to keep taking big steps towards keeping you informed about important and interesting topics. In 2015, we are dedicating the focus our blog on one of today’s hottest topics and one that affects us all – climate change. We will bring you commentaries and interviews that will inform you about this topic and prepare you to do your part, at home, at work, and throughout your daily lives.

The more informed you are about a topic, the better decisions you make. From choosing to walk or ride your bike short distances instead of driving to understanding related policies and proposed bills, the more you know the better off we’ll all be. We will explore different ways local and national governments are preparing for and working to reduce the effects of climate change. We will cover how climate change is communicated in the media, on social media and with visual communications. We’ll take you to big projects across the country and around the world that are combating the harmful effects of climate change through sustainability, conservation and renewable energy.

Credit: UC San Diego Extension

Credit: UC San Diego Extension

As a public involvement firm we are committed to keeping stakeholders informed and up to date early and often and maintaining open dialogues and transparency throughout a project, campaign or effort. This passion is what drives us to use our blog to explore meaningful topics like climate change. We encourage you to participate in this online forum, by sharing your own comments, thoughts, articles and other information. Let’s learn from each other.

Stay turned for our first post on climate change in the coming weeks.

The Collaborative Services Blog Team 

The Navy takes to the sea to combat climate change

The U.S. Naval research Lab 's Building 72. (Photo/Image provided courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.)

The U.S. Naval research Lab ‘s Building 72.
(Photo/Image provided courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.)

As the source for almost all things, the ocean may just be where we find solutions to climate change as well.  This past spring the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) announced that it had developed a process to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from the ocean and convert it into fuel-like molecules. This process could eventually fuel Navy jets and help provide energy independence for our military.

While this development flew mostly under the radar when announced, it opens the door for big possibilities. Turning seawater into fuel could one day help reduce our nation’s dependence on oil and our carbon footprint to steer us towards a more sustainable future. With ocean’s accounting for 96.5 percent of the 71 percent of the earth’s water this new energy option is abundant and available.

Today, we hear from Dr. Heather Willauer, a research chemist in the Materials Science and Technology Division at the NRL. Dr. Willauer explains the revolutionary process of turning seawater into fuel-like molecules, what this means for the military and our nation’s future, and how the Navy is combating climate change and researching alternative energies. We welcome her insights.

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A team of Vanguard I scientists mount the satellite in the rocket.  (Photo/Image provided courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.)

A team of Vanguard I scientists mount the satellite in the rocket.
(Photo/Image provided courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.)

What work happens at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory?
Founded in 1923, NRL is a campus-like complex of diverse scientific facilities headquartered in Washington, D.C. With a compliment of approximately 2,800 employees consisting of researchers, engineers, technicians and support personnel, the laboratory carries out basic and applied research on the forefront of the physical and chemical sciences, computer science, and engineering

Who works at the Naval Research Laboratory?
The internal organization is divided into five directorates; four conducting scientific research, and one designated the Naval Center for Space Technology. The varying directorates employ civilian federal workers, contractors, students from academia, and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

Who oversees the work of the Naval Research Laboratory?
Overall laboratory management is under the direction of a Navy commanding officer and civilian director of research. As a Navy Working Capital Fund, all costs, including overhead, are recovered through sponsor-funded research projects. These include the Chief of Naval Research, Naval Systems Commands and other government agencies to further include the U.S. Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Department of Energy, NASA, and other nongovernment entities.

This past spring, the Naval Research Laboratory announced it had developed a process to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from the ocean and convert it into fuel-like molecules that could eventually be used to fuel jets. Can you tell us how this process will work?
Using a novel NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM) cell, up to 92 percent of both dissolved and bound carbon dioxide (in the form of carbonates and bicarbonates) can be removed from seawater. The total concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in seawater is 140 times greater than that in air. In addition to CO2, the module produces hydrogen gas (H2) at the cathode as a by-product. NRL and partners have developed a carbon capture system that demonstrates the continuous and efficient production of CO2 and H2 from seawater. Seawater processed by this technology, may be returned to the sea, since no additional chemicals or pollutants are introduced.

Credit: Deposit Photos via DailyTech

Credit: Deposit Photos via DailyTech

Two further processing steps takes these reactants and coverts them to synthetic fuel. The first is an NRL patented process that addresses the conversion of CO2 and H2 to olefins (short chain carbon molecules). The second step consists of conversion of olefins to a fuel-like fraction of C9-C16 molecules by transforming a simple carbon chain to a complex chain using zeolite catalysts. NRL currently operates a lab-scale system that is capable of producing up to 500 milliliters of liquid hydrocarbons (C9-C16) a day. Additional research and development are necessary to enhance the efficiency of chemical reactions for tailoring the mixed hydrocarbons to a fuel-like fraction. By far, the key scientific challenge that NRL continues to study at the basic science level is to accomplish greater CO2 and H2 conversion efficiencies to the hydrocarbon fuel fraction of interest. Effects of catalyst composition, size, and distribution are parts of this study. The ultimate long-term goal would be for the liquid hydrocarbon production to be specifically tailored to meet or exceed all current military fuel performance standards.

When did this research first start?
Dr. Dennis R. Hardy who is currently retired from NRL developed the concept in 2002. The program was funded by NRL’s core research funds in 2007.

Credit: U.S. Navy via Wired

Credit: U.S. Navy via Wired

What is the benefit of this development for the Navy and the other branches of the U.S. military?
The technology will ensure naval energy independence and minimize global logistics footprint by producing up to 100 percent of fuel operational needs at or near the point of use at sea or on land. This allows greater “Freedom of Action” for the warfighter while meeting Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) milestones for carbon neutrality and strategic fuel autonomy. This novel technology provides potential fuel cost stabilizing solutions for next generation Navy and U.S. Marine Corps platforms and installations.

What benefit does it have beyond the military?
It could be envisioned that one day this process would be powered by alternative renewable energy such as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), wave energy power, and off shore wind energy. The environmental benefit is a process that has a net zero carbon footprint. The other viable benefit is a way to capture, convert, and store electricity, produced by alternative energy, as a versatile, high-energy-density synthetic liquid hydrocarbon that can be used as a fuel.

Credit: inhabitat.com

Credit: inhabitat.com

What other research and development related to reducing the effects of climate change is the Naval Research Laboratory currently conducting?
NRL conducts research to help better understand changes to Earth’s climate and the impacts these changes may present to the Earth environment. These include the study of atmospheric and oceanic interfaces, geophysical and meteorological factors, upper atmosphere anomalies, and space weather. Additional satellite laboratories, the Marine Meteorology Division in Monterey, Calif., and the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, aid in this research.

In less direct terms, NRL is involved in research pertaining to alternative energies such as solar, fusion and benthic fuel cell technologies that provide renewable energy sources that can be more efficient, lower operating costs, and contribute toward a reduction in the overall carbon footprint for the Navy and Department of Defense.

Credit: PageResource.com

Credit: PageResource.com

When does the Navy anticipate that the technology it discovered to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas from the ocean to create jet fuel will be ready for commercial implementation and how would this solution transition from being a military solution to a commercial solution for the airlines, corporate and personally operated aircraft?
Commercial implementation will depend on funding. Currently, it is estimated at the present low level of funding, the program will not exist in the next 5 to 10 years. Conversely, a proportionate amount of future research, if properly funded, could provide the necessary steps to scale-up this technology to a commercially viable product in the next decade.

What’s in store for the Naval Research Laboratory next year?
NRL will continue its research on improving catalyst stability that is currently funded through NRL’s core basic research program. Concurrently, NRL will actively maintain its efforts to obtain commercial and government funding to improve the energy and process efficiencies of the individual technologies and scale and integrate the technologies as “proof of concept.”

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Learn more about NRL’s innovative research and stay up to date on new their new climate change discoveries and developments here.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project: Growing fresh communities

This week as we start our series exploring projects and ideas related to sustainability, conservation and renewable energy that have big potential. Do you like to eat? Do you like fresh great tasting food and want to easily find it in your local community? Then you will have an appetite for this week’s interview.

What started as a group of strangers who came together to save local farm land, evolved into a new community of farming and local food enthusiasts. From this group, the idea for a collective local food and farming network in San Diego County began to grow, resulting in The San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project. For nearly 15 years, the project has provided a range of classes for all ages, volunteer opportunities and social events to residents across the county. With a recently renewed lease on their Tijuana River Valley Regional Park farm, the project is looking forward to the expanding their work and mission in the next year.

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

We welcome Mel Lions, Director of San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project. He shares the history of the project, its current efforts and what we can continue to look forward to from the project (in addition to tasty, fresh, locally grown food). We welcome his insights.

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How did the idea for San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project originate?
In December 2000, a local farmer called a group of his friends together to inform us that the land he’d been renting was going on the market, that a developer was interested in turning the rich farmland into a gated polo field surrounded by mansions. Instead, our friend proposed that the community buy the land to preserve it as farmland. The farmer was using about four acres out of 160, most of which was growing hay. The land had ample well water, had only ever been farmed, and enjoyed deep, rich soil. We didn’t know each other but we knew him and the delicious food he was able to grow, and decided this was a worthwhile effort.

We were enthusiastic and idealistic, but had no formal organization, no business plan, and mostly no idea that we had little chance of raising $8 million in a short amount of time. But because we were clueless, we tried. We developed a concept to take the 160 acres and install a variety of agricultural ventures — including row and field crops, dairy and eggs, grains and pasture — to unite the various operations into a cooperative venture, and use the entire operation as a place to train the next generation of farmers.

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

As we went around the community urging people to “buy the farm!” the most common response we got was, “Why? Why should I give you money from my pocket to do that?” While the local food movement was awakening in other cities around the country, we discovered that it did not exist in San Diego in the year 2001, and we ultimately failed to buy the land.

But over those two years of effort we had grown to like each other. We found we worked well together, that the cause was worthy, and decided that we were the ones to instigate the local-food movement for San Diego. We reorganized as an educational group, going all over town showing free movies about food and then leading discussions, setting up tables at local events, talking to many thousands of people about the importance of local farms to our community’s health, economy and environment. We grew our membership and expanded our outreach, and then gave ourselves a name that encapsulated our work: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project. We were now a thing.

Our theme this month is projects and ideas that may be on a smaller scale but have the potential to have a big impact. What is the big idea your project is promoting?
We want to see food growing where we live: in our yards, our places of worship, our schools, and in the fertile fields surrounding our cities. Before the onset of the globalized food system in the 1990s, for ten millennia most food was grown in or near a city or town. Food grown where we live needs far less petroleum inputs to get to market, is picked for flavor and nutrition instead of for how it holds up to transportation, is better tasting and more nutritious, and supports the local economy rather than some mega-agribusiness that doesn’t live here.

Food is one of our primary connections to the environment; how we choose to eat food has a huge effect on the soil, water and atmosphere. Industrial food production is one of the most environmentally destructive industries. So we teach people how to grow food right here — from the small, backyard scale to small-scale farming — and empower them to take back control of their food from global agribusiness, to enjoy eating the most delicious and nutritious food around, and to marvel at the wonders of soil and nature and our relationship to all that lives. This would take us back to the way we once grew food and would have a tremendous effect on the environment. And our food would taste better too!

What are some of the ways your project works to encourage the growth and consumption of regional food?
We have two primary programs: Victory Gardens San Diego, where we teach people how to grow food in their yards, schools, and community spaces; and Wild Willow Farm & Education Center where we teach small-scale farming and serve as a community hub for local foodies. At Wild Willow Farm, we offer classes for adults on the fundamentals of growing food, and workshops on many topics from beekeeping to food preservation. We offer field trips to students of all ages, where we give hands-on lessons on topics ranging from the earthworm life cycle, how to make a school garden, cooking (and eating!) demonstrations, and tie agricultural ideas into science, math, and art.

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Our website serves as a resource for people who are looking to support local food, offering lists of local farmers markets, small-farm CSAs, restaurants that feature local food, community groups with a food focus, and generally helping people who are looking to make a locally based change in their eating lifestyle.

 San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project started 14 years ago. What have been some of the biggest challenges and successes you have had to date?
Needing to raise $8 million in a couple years was a challenge, that’s for sure! But that failure only clarified the need and steeled our determination to be a force for change. Certainly gathering a group of people durable enough and determined to take this work on has been a challenge, but by keeping the purpose front and center, by being persistent and not giving up, and working hard to say “yes” as much as possible, opportunities opened up and we’ve found a solid team committed to make it work. After ten years as a volunteer group, people now have meaningful jobs with us.

Other primary hurdles have been bureaucratic: figuring out and meeting all the legal and regulatory requirements that have presented themselves. This has included forming a corporation, getting non-profit status, facing the myriad rules of small business, employment law, farming regulations, and leasing land. Dealing with these remains a full-time, non-agricultural job.

Our successes can be witnessed in the community of people who gather with us to grow food and collectively build the world we want to live in. Where there was once a handful of strangers, now there are hundreds — thousands — of people who have been affected by our message and efforts.

Credit: Roman-Photography/San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: Roman-Photography/San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

How does our community benefit when we buy and eat locally grown food?
Nature has a wondrous way of providing peak nutrition at the moment of peak flavor. Our food is more enjoyable and nutritious when we eat something picked for flavor rather than for profit. When we buy produce at a farmers market where there is no middle-man, the farmer gets a bigger piece of the pie and is more likely to spend that money back in the local economy, where it circulates (like blood!) and supports other local businesses; whereas most of the money spent at a supermarket supports an industrial food chain of which the farmer gets the littlest and last share. Plus farmers markets are vibrant community hubs where you can interact with your neighbors in unexpected ways and help bring the community alive.

Growing food in your front yard gives you instant connection to the people in your neighborhood, who will stop and engage with you, ask questions, give advice. I guarantee you can grow enough food to give away to your neighbors, strengthening your connection with those who live around you.

In the history of humanity, in every culture in the world, we’ve always celebrated our culture milestones with food. Every time we gather for any occasion, whether religious or secular, for births, rights of passage, marriage or death, there is food. Isn’t it a validation of the importance of our culture when we prepare and share the best of what we have, rather than what is the cheapest and most convenient?

San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project just signed a lease with the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation to continue to farm and teach in the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park for the next five years. This area is home to your project’s Wild Willow Farm and Education Center. Can you tell our readers more about what happens at Wild Willow Farm?
There are three cornerstones in Wild Willow Farm’s structure: Agriculture, Education and Community. Each of these interact to create a vibrant and growing network of citizens who are activated to create a more vital and connected food network for our region.

During the week at Wild Willow Farm, we have farm-school students learning basic farming skills from our talented teaching staff. Every Saturday we host farm-school classes, open volunteering, and community events. Once a month from March through October, we host a free open house/potluck, with farm and nature tours, yoga, local musicians, specialty classes, and of course food, including delicious farm-fresh pizza on sourdough crust cooked in our wood-fired oven. As the sun goes down we light a fire in our cob bonfire ring and invite everyone to pound a drum and dance, and celebrate the connections offered by our community.

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

Credit: San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project

What types of educational classes and events does your organization offer?
Most of our work centers on education and community building. Toward those ends we offer home-gardening courses through our Victory Gardens San Diego program. These are usually three weekend classes at people’s homes. It’s a hands-on approach that takes novices through every vital stage in growing food, with the homeowner getting a garden built in their yard.

At Wild Willow Farm & Education Center, we offer year-round courses in small-scale sustainable farming, teaching at levels from basic to advanced in our School for Sustainable Farming. Every Saturday we invite the public to volunteer on the farm and get hands-on experience while enjoying fresh air and good food, all while connecting with interesting and engaging people.

At the farm we offer periodic classes in subjects ranging from beekeeping to fruit-tree care, fermentation to medicinal herbs. We host social events and monthly community gatherings to celebrate and network with people who understand the importance that good food has in creating an enjoyable, delicious and meaningful life.

 How does your project engage and inform the public about its efforts? What tools and methods do you use?
Our primary outreach is via our website, social media and our periodic newsletter. Because we’ve been around for a while, we’ve got friends and partners all over San Diego, and this network offers us a broad reach into our market. Now that we’ve established our farm and gotten a new lease, we expect to do further outreach to local print and broadcast media as well.

The Farmers Market in the Little Italy Community of San Diego, CA. (Credit: georgevutetakis.com)

The Farmers Market in the Little Italy Community of San Diego, CA.
(Credit: georgevutetakis.com)

Your organization helps people find locally grown food in San Diego County. Your website provides a list of restaurants, organic markets, farmers markets, farm stands, wholesale distributors, etc. Is not being able to find locally grown food a common complaint you hear? Why do you think it difficult for people to find locally grown food?
It used to be, but not so much any more! But every day there are folks just entering the local food scene, and by listing resources we give them a hand up. Also, more restaurants are offering locally sourced ingredients and we want to encourage them by giving them free promotion for taking that leap. The more restaurants and markets that serve or sell locally grown food, the more people are exposed to the local food concept.

There are some structural issues that would make access to local food easier, such as reinstitution of a local food hub where local farmers could aggregate their products so more restaurants and markets could source locally grown produce. A couple decades ago, downtown San Diego had a number of produce wholesalers who purchased food from local farmers, but this system was abandoned and replaced by larger, Los Angeles-based food distribution centers. So now, even food that is grown in San Diego and consumed here has probably been to Los Angeles and back!

This movement is all about connections. Helping get people connected to where their food comes from remains one of our primary purposes.

What’s next for San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project? What should people look forward to on the horizon?
We intend to keep expanding our work: offering more classes, connecting to more school kids, expanding our farm, adding depth to our efforts. The difference between gardening and farming is that farming is a business, so in 2015 we’ll be offering advanced farming courses in the Business of Farming, teaching classes in production planning, regulatory and certification requirements for small farmers, employment issues, and other non-horticultural necessities of farming.

We’re working to do more outreach to local schools, helping mentor school gardens and nutrition programs, and offering after-school programs at the farm to give students a healthy, outdoor activity to meet their service-learning requirements.

Because Wild Willow Farm is in a park where we’re not allowed live, longer range we’d like to get land of our own where we can live and grow our farm school — the only one in Southern California, and one of the few in the country that offer year-round growing — and offer staff and student residency and community-building programs. This is perhaps a refined echo of our original effort that failed.

How can San Diegans get involved in the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project? Are there other projects or networks like yours nationally that you can share with our readers in other parts of the country?
We invite everyone to come to the farm every Saturday and volunteer and get their hands dirty. We host events throughout the year, so keep checking our website or sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about what we’re doing. During the warm months (March – October), we host a free community open house/potluck where you can enjoy a unique experience and meet a lot of people involved in this movement.

While we are an entirely local organization, there are organizations and efforts springing up all over the country — too many to name — so the best bet would be to meet people at your local farmers market or search the web for sustainable food in your area. “Foodies” by nature are gregarious and interesting, and I promise that by connecting to your local food network, you will be enjoying the most fabulous and delicious food!

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We hope this interview left you hungry for more. Click here to learn more about the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project and to find locally grown food across San Diego County.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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We move from BIG Projects to smaller ones with the potential to make a world of difference

Credit: Arabian Business Publishing Ltd.

Credit: Arabian Business Publishing Ltd.

Our BIG series on BIG projects has come to an end. We hope you enjoyed learning about some of our country’s and the world’s newly built wonders. These BIG projects are helping us to travel and revitalize communities, harness new clean energy and compete on a global scale.

We started our series looking at America’s Infrastructure Report Card produced by the American Society for Civil Engineers. The projects we featured over the past two months are definitely making the grade and helping to raise our country’s infrastructure G.P.A.

We want to say a BIG thank you to all of our interviewees from the past two months. Their work and insights on these projects is truly something to celebrate. They are:

  • Jeff Holland, Director of Communications for NRG who talked about the world’s largest solar thermal plant – the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System
  • Shellie Ginn, Transportation Administrator for the City of Tucson’s Department of Transportation who talked about the Sun Link Modern Streetcar project and how it brought a new mode of transportation to the community and is helping to revitalize Tucson’s downtown
  • Mark Camley, Executive Director of Park Operations and Venues at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the London Legacy Development Corporation who talked about what Londoners and visitors have to look forward to as the Olympic Park continues its transformation after the 2012 summer games
  • Michelle Boehm, Southern California Regional Director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority who talked about how the California High Speed Rail is putting the country’s most populous state to work and improving travel efficiency

We also looked at BIG ideas that may become the next BIG project. BIG ideas like Solar Roadways inspired our next series on sustainability, conservation and renewable energy. Next, we will feature smaller scale projects that have the potential to make a big impact. These are projects that are helping us reduce our waste and dependence on products that can harm our planet. These solutions and are helping us help our communities and ourselves to be healthier and live more sustainable lifestyles. While these projects don’t come with billion dollar price tags of the BIG projects we recently featured, they have the potential to help our country reduce its carbon footprint.

Do you know of a project or idea related to sustainability, conservation or renewable energy that is making a big difference? Share these with us. The more knowledge we have as individuals the better equipped we are to incorporate more sustainable efforts into our lives. When we all do our part we can make a world of difference.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

 

 

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One step closer to flying the friendly rails of California

Traveling across our country’s most populated state is on track to get a lot easier in the coming years. This week as we continue our series on BIG projects, we feature the much anticipated California High-Speed Rail project. One of the biggest projects in our state, the multi-billion dollar California High-Speed Rail took a big step forward this past summer when it moved from the design phase into the initial construction of the first segment of its first phase from Fresno to Madera.

Using clean renewable energy, the California High-Speed Rail will provide an alternative transportation choice that will help keep the state’s booming projected population growth moving, while preserving its natural environment and working towards its carbon emission reduction goals. Riding the California High-Speed Rail will help remove cars from the state’s already congested freeways helping to reduce emissions and the need to expand these highways and construct new airport runways and terminals to accommodate for more capacity.

An artist's conception of the California High-Speed Rail. (Credit: California High-Speed Rail)

An artist’s conception of a California High-Speed Rail car.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail)

When complete, the California High-Speed Rail will whisk passengers along the rail line between the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles Basin (and eventually from Sacramento south to San Diego) at speeds over 200 m.p.h. But travel times aren’t the only thing the project is speeding up. It is also helping to speed up the state’s economy by providing thousands of new jobs for Californians in construction, operations, maintenance and the transit oriented development businesses that will spring up near the stations along the route. It is also responsible for significant investments in improving existing rail infrastructure across the state.

As with any mega project, the California High-Speed Rail has had its fair share of critics, but it hopes to win over the opposition and follow in the foot steps of other great Californian transformative projects that were also once criticized (Golden Gate Bridge, anyone?).

This week as we continue our series on BIG projects, we invite you to come “all aboard” as we hear from Michelle Boehm, Southern California Regional Director, California High-Speed Rail Authority. Ms. Boehm talks about the project’s challenges and successes to date, what the project is doing to keep the public informed and up to date on its progress, and what future riders can look forward to. We welcome her insights.

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California Governor Jerry Brown signing  S.B. 1029 at Los Angeles' Union Station. (Credit: The California High Speed Rail Authority's  Instagram account)

California Governor Jerry Brown signing S.B. 1029 at Los Angeles Union Station.
(Credit: The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Instagram account)

When did the idea for a high-speed rail across California originate and how did the project gain momentum?
The idea for high-speed rail across California actually began back in the 1970s during Governor Jerry Brown’s first two terms as California’s Governor. As you may already know, Japan has enjoyed high-speed rail since 1964 and just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Shinkansen Bullet Train. Countries in Europe including France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia and the United Kingdom (today all connected as part of a Trans-European high speed rail network), and Asia including China, South Korea and Taiwan soon followed suit by developing their own high-speed rail systems.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) was created in 1996 and the program gained momentum in November 2008 when California voters passed Proposition 1A, the $9.95 billion bond measure to help fund high-speed rail in California. Another milestone was in 2012 when California’s Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1029. This appropriated $3.3 billion of federal grant funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and $4.7 billion of Prop 1A funds for the high-speed rail program.

In June 2014, California’s Legislature approved the 2014-2015 Budget which allocates $250 million of cap and trade proceeds and 25 percent annually of all future cap and trade proceeds for high-speed rail. These steady streams of funding have helped accelerate the program and allow the Authority to build the project concurrently in various parts of the state.

Has the project’s vision and mission changed over time?
While the method by which the high-speed rail program has been implemented has changed since the initial project description, the Authority’s vision and mission has remained consistent: to build a transformative high-speed rail program that connects California’s major population centers and economies with a fast, clean mode of transportation.

As outlined in Proposition 1A, the system will zip passengers from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Basin in under three hours, at speeds of more than 200 mph. In addition to bringing the various regions of the state together, the high-speed rail system will also help reduce California’s traffic congestion, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and discourage urban sprawl through the development of station communities and transit orientated development. California’s population is estimated to reach 50 million by 2050, and the cost of adding to the state’s existing infrastructure by simply building more airport runways and highways is estimated to be more than twice the cost of building the high-speed rail system. Building high-speed rail isn’t a luxury, but it’s a necessity to prepare for the future.

Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority Facebook Page.

Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority Facebook Page

What public involvement methods have been the most helpful to explaining the purpose and need of the project early on?
In the last two years, the Authority has been committed to hosting public community meetings throughout the state. This allows residents that may be impacted by the program or are simply seeking an update on progress to ask questions of our engineering, environmental and other experts. Just this past August, the Authority hosted seven public scoping meetings in the Palmdale to Burbank and Burbank to Los Angeles Project Sections. The purpose was to gather official public comments about various proposed alignments and high-speed rail stations that will be considered in our environmental studies in the Southern California region moving forward.

In addition, the Authority has regional offices in Fresno, San Jose and Los Angeles and outreach teams that meet regularly with local stakeholders and the public. Authority staff members often speak at transportation, environmental and small business events and workshops throughout the state to educate the public about our program and the many job opportunities available.

In the past year, the Authority has undertaken an outreach strategy that targets Millennials and focuses on college and university outreach. Senior staff members including CEO Jeff Morales have spoken to students in fields that are related to high-speed rail implementation (engineering, planning, transportation, environmental policy, public policy). Through these talks, the Authority has encouraged Millennials to get involved, via social media, and spread the latest news and updates regarding the high-speed rail program.

Construction jobs are only one of many types of jobs the California High Speed Rail will create in the state.  (Credit: California High Speed Rail Facebook Page)

Construction jobs are only one of many types of jobs the California High-Speed Rail will create in the state.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail Facebook Page)

What do you consider the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s biggest success to date?
Putting Californians to work, especially in the Central Valley, is one of the Authority’s biggest successes to date. The Central Valley has been particularly slow to recover from the national recession, and the construction industry faces more than 30 percent unemployment. High-speed rail construction will create 20,000 construction jobs annually for the next five years. These jobs will go to the people who need them the most and provide a significant boost to California’s economy as a whole.

As of June 30, 2014, there are 156 certified small businesses and 832 full-time workers involved in the high-speed rail program. There are also 21 certified Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises working on the program right now. The Authority has an aggressive 30 percent Small Business participation goal in the program, which includes a 10 percent Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goal and a 3 percent Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise goal.

This is only the beginning. As high-speed rail continues to expand service from the Bay Area to the Los Angeles Basin, it will generate an additional estimated 67,000 jobs annually for 15 years. The jobs won’t only be in the construction industry, but high-speed rail will promote growth in several other sectors. Permanent public and private sector employees will be responsible for operating and maintaining the high-speed rail system. In addition, there will be restaurants, shops, etc. that will be built around future high-speed rail stations.

The California High-Speed Rail project finally began preliminary construction after years of planning and contention. What was the biggest challenge to moving forward and how was it overcome?
All big projects face controversy. The Golden Gate Bridge faced more than 2,000 lawsuits in its time and was termed the “upside-down rat trap that will mar the beauty of the bay.” BART was once called the “train to nowhere.” And the California State Water System and the University of California System were both passed with single-vote margins. Where would we be without these transformative projects?

Demolition of the Old Del Monte Plant in Downtown Fresno. (Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority)

Demolition of the Old Del Monte Plant in Downtown Fresno.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The Authority is beefing up our staff in the Central Valley, where construction began this summer with the demolition of buildings in Fresno. Crews continue to run tests on soil, concrete, rebar and asphalt to determine where to locate bridges, embankments and other high-speed rail structures. They’re also relocating utilities and doing abatement work which will make old abandoned buildings safe to demolish.

In light of all this activity, we are meeting and working with local communities to keep them updated on our progress. Our Central Valley office, located in Fresno, is at the center of work being done. They receive inquiries every day from the public, media, elected officials and property owners who want to be kept updated on the project or will be personally impacted. Staff in the Fresno office is committed to working with members of the public to ensure that the construction process moves forward as smoothly as possible.

The first stretch of construction will be between Fresno and Madera. What are some challenges that this area presents?
With any major infrastructure project, there will be the normal challenges associated with construction. The design-build team, Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons (TPZP), A Joint Venture, continues to move forward with completing project design, acquiring permits, relocating utilities and meeting with stakeholders to start the civil engineering work that will provide the foundation for the future high-speed rail.

The Authority has also entered into an agreement with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) to ensure that all emissions created during construction activities do not negatively impact local communities. This is being done through a series of voluntary emissions reduction agreement (VERA) that include a commitment by the Authority to recycle steel and concrete from demolitions and to use only Tier IV construction diesel vehicles while building the high-speed rail program. Tier IV diesel vehicles are the cleanest and most energy efficient construction vehicles available. The Authority is also partnering with SJVAPCD to purchase electric and efficient motors to replace existing irrigation pumps and engines, including in school buses, throughout the region.

The first segment of construction will take place between Fresno to Madera. (Credit: California High-Speed Rail)

The first segment of construction will take place between Fresno to Madera.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail)

How do you keep the public informed during construction? What communication methods and tools do you use?
The Authority is committed to keeping people informed about how the high-speed rail program will impact them. The Central Valley office, led by the Regional Director, is responsible for working with members of the public and the media to make sure that they are aware and informed. Within this office, there are engineers, right-of-way agents, planners, communications and other staff that cover a wide range of topics and are available to meet with stakeholders.

The design-build contractor (TPZP) and the Authority are partnering to keep members of the public up to date on how construction activities may impact them. This includes construction and traffic alerts that are issued when major construction is happening, community events that are held in regions that will be impacted by future construction and media events and outreach to the public.

The Authority also sends press releases and advisories to the media and to its stakeholders via email. The Authority’s website www.hsr.ca.gov contains all the latest news and updates as well as information about our ongoing construction, traffic alerts, board meetings, public meetings, etc. The public can also email us, write us a letter or give us a call at any time.

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Credit: California High-Speed Rail Facebook Page

Cost is always a sore subject with mega projects. What strategies help the most to explain or prove the future value of the infrastructure?
High-speed rail is the most cost-effective method of transportation that will not only accommodate California’s population boom, but it will help preserve farmland and the environment. Los Angeles to San Francisco is the busiest short-haul market in the country. One out of six flights heads out of Los Angeles to the Bay Area. High-speed rail fills a gap in California’s infrastructure. According to Caltrans, it would cost $158 billion to build 4,300 new highway lane miles, 115 new additional airport gates and 4 new runway terminals that are needed for California’s growing population.

High-speed rail is using clean and renewable energy to connect the state’s population centers. We’re not asking people to stop taking flights or stop driving their cars. We’re simply providing another mode of transportation that will help preserve our environment and meet California’s population growth. In many other countries like Spain and France, there’s been a big transportation shift after high-speed rail systems were built. More people are using high-speed rail than driving or flying in between major cities. This has resulted in a major reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel used to make the same trip by plane or car.

Can you estimate how many jobs will be created as part of Phase 1 of the California High-Speed Rail? What about after the entire project is complete and operating?
Once the Initial Operating Section (IOS) is completed, high-speed rail is estimated to generate 57,000 construction jobs annually for nine years. When Phase 1 of the project is completed, it’s estimated to create 67,000 construction jobs annually for 15 years. Currently, we do not have job estimates for Phase 2, but as you can imagine, that would create tens of thousands of more jobs throughout the state. As mentioned previously, high-speed rail will also be creating jobs in other sectors like operation, maintenance, commercial and retail.

Today in the Central Valley, small businesses are already working on the high-speed program and growing their companies as a result.

Kroeker, Inc. is a woman-owned certified Small Business Enterprise (SBE) based in Fresno that is contracted to do demolition work. Owner Jill Kroeker says the funds her company is earning through this contract has allowed her to grow and expand her company. Specifically, she reports that this spring, she moved her company into a larger office in Clovis and has been able to hire a project manager. She plans to hire more employees as the job progresses.

Another example is Fontana-based Martinez Steel. They are a certified Hispanic Owned Micro-Business (MB) and certified Disad­vantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) owned by husband and wife Joe and Debbie Martinez. Their company has been contracted to provide rebar for the first 29 miles of construction.  Debbie tells us her company was hit hard by the recession but this new contract has really turned things around. They’ve been able to hire 50 to 60 new workers to work on the high-speed program.

We are still years away from the completion of the California High-Speed Rail, but what are some of the benefits the public has to look forward to?
With the passage of Senate Bill 1029 in 2012 by Governor Brown and the California Legislature, the Authority has already invested in a number of connectivity projects across the state that will upgrade and improve local rail transit services. SB 1029 invests almost $2 billion of Prop 1A funds into transit, commuter and intercity rail projects across California. This funding will leverage approximately $5 billion in additional funding for these projects.

One of these projects is the Metro Connector Project in LA County, which just held its groundbreaking ceremony in Little Tokyo on Sept. 30, 2014. The 1.9-mile subway project will tie the existing Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line with tracks between 7th/Metro Center and Little Tokyo. For the first time, passengers will be able to travel from Long Beach to Azusa or from East LA to Santa Monica, without changing trains. This $1.4 billion project is set to open in 2020.

An artist conception of a California High Speed Rail station (Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority)

An artist conception of a California High-Speed Rail station
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The Authority is also investing in the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project (SCRIP) at Los Angeles Union Station. This project would create run through tracks, allowing trains to make a loop instead of having to back in and out in its current configuration. This will increase train capacity by 40 to 50 percent and reduce commuter travel times and greenhouse gas emissions. The $350 million project is expected to be completed by December 2019.

In San Diego County, the Authority is investing millions of dollars to improve grade crossings, tracks and signaling for the Trolley system. We are also investing in Positive Train Control for the North County Transit District. This is an advanced signaling system that will track the location of trains to avoid collisions.

In the Bay Area, the Authority is electrifying the Caltrain Corridor that will replace diesel trains and connect the system with high-speed rail. This will result in cleaner, faster travel.

These are just a few of the transit projects the Authority is funding and improving to make rail passenger service better and faster throughout the state.

The public will also see environmental benefits with these connectivity projects moving forward in the short term. More efficient, electric trains will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air particulates. As more people get out of their cars and into mass transit, this will result in a reduction of vehicles on the roads. Once high-speed rail is fully operational by 2030, the reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) will be like removing the capacity of one 500-mile lane of cars.

The Central Valley will also be the first region in the state where the Authority will be implementing an urban forestry program. In the next several years, the Authority will work with local stakeholders to plant 10,000 trees in the region. These trees will help offset construction emissions, provide shade and beautify the surroundings. The Authority is also committed to protecting important farmland in the region and is partnering with the California Department of Conservation to purchase property from willing sellers to protect that land permanently from future development. What that means is that for every acre that will be utilized by the high-speed rail project, one acre will be preserved forever.

Members of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation staff at a "Careers in Construction" workshop showing their support for the California High Speed Rail by participating in the #Iwillride campaign. (Credit: California High Speed Rail Facebook page)

Members of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation staff at a “Careers in Construction” workshop showing their support for the California High-Speed Rail by participating in the #Iwillride campaign.
(Credit: California High-Speed Rail Facebook page)

What are some ways our readers can support more high-speed rail in the U.S.?
Readers can follow the progress of California’s high-speed rail program through our social media sites. We’re constantly updating our progress through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Instagram. We’re also using the social media sites to update Californians on jobs, regional transportation upgrades, and how cities and regions can use transit oriented development to encourage healthier and smarter planned communities.

We encourage supporters of high-speed rail to join our #Iwillride social media campaign. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and use the #Iwillride to post stories, pictures and videos about high-speed rail, riding mass transit, etc.

In addition, you can write to your local representatives and newspapers about why high-speed rail is important and needed in California. And finally, take local transit when available and encourage your family and friends to do the same. It’s tough to convince Californians to get out of their cars and use mass transit, but getting one car off the road adds up when thousands of people do it.

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Will you ride the California High-Speed Rail when it’s complete? Share your thoughts on the BIG project with us.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

 

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London’s Olympic Sized Legacy

In 2012, the eyes of the world were on London. You along with 215 million viewers watched the world’s top athletes compete in the Summer Olympic Games in hopes of bringing sports highest honor back to their home country. To host the summer games, the City of London transformed 560-acres of industrial east London into the innovative and sustainable Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Credit: Olympic.org

Credit: Olympic.org

But what happens to Olympic Parks after the medals are won, the athletes have returned home and the fanfare is over?  These big investments can financially burden a city and draw criticism from its residents. In the case of London, advanced planning is allowing this Olympic Park to transform into a state-of-the-art facility for sports, arts, culture, entertainment, education, and day-to-day life. The Park will continue on as a world class sporting facility, and it will also include new residential housing that will make up five new neighborhoods, recreation facilities, and cultural and event quadrants all surrounded by the natural beauty of waterways and parklands. Constructed with sustainability at its heart, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park goes beyond incorporating sustainability into its design and construction. The Park promotes a sustainable lifestyle with ample and easily accessible opportunities for walking and bicycling.

One year to the day of the 2012 summer Olympic opening ceremony, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park had another opening to celebrate – the opening of the north of the Park segment. This established the Park as a destination for residents and visitors alike and a staple in the city’s community landscape. The Park continues to inspire the Olympic spirit in the city long after the flame has moved on to Rio de Janeiro and future host cities.

Today, as we continue our series on the world’s BIG projects, we hear from Mark Camley, Executive Director of Park Operations and Venues at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the London Legacy Development Corporation. He tells us how planning, flexibility and public input have been key to the Park’s success and shares what residents and visitors have to look forward to as the Park continues to progress. We welcome his insights.

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How did the decision to use the Olympic Park as a public space come to fruition? Were there any other contending ideas for ways to reuse the Olympic park?
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is much more than just a public space. It offers the best in sporting and cultural amenities while at the same time will offer people places to live, work and learn. The obvious legacy of the London 2012 Games was to secure the future of the permanent venues at the Park. This has been achieved and of the five sporting venues at the Park, four of them are already being used by both local communities and elite athletes, with the fifth, the Stadium, set to open for five matches of the Rugby World Cup in 2015. The Park will also be the location of up to 6,800 new homes across five new neighbourhoods where new nurseries, community centres, schools and health facilities are also being constructed. As well as this a new cultural and education quarter is planned for the Park that will see partners such as the Victoria & Albert Museum and University College London attract new visitors to the area.

London' s Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park (Credit: London Legacy Development Corporation)

London’ s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
(Credit: London Legacy Development Corporation)

What is the vision and goal of the park?
The London Legacy Development Corporation is the body responsible for the management of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The Legacy Corporation was formed to use the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the creation of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to develop a dynamic new heart for east London, creating opportunities for local people and driving innovation and growth.

The Tumbling Playground part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park's north of the park segment. (Credit: Adventure Playground Engineers)

The Tumbling Bay Playground part of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s north of the park segment.
(Credit: Adventure Playground Engineers)

Did you go to the community to solicit ideas for how to use the space?
We are proud to consult local people on all aspects of the Park’s development. Consultations are held on major projects and local people are invited to contribute ideas for how the Park can shape the development of the local area. This has lead to local people coming up with the names of the Park’s five new neighbourhoods, a Legacy Youth Panel who discuss how the Park is working with the local community and we’ve worked hard with local disabled people to ensure the Park is accessible to everyone.

Were there any challenges that arose from public input? If so, how were they addressed?
The key to public engagement has been to be open and honest, and deliver on commitments. We set ourselves a challenging timescale to re-open the north of the Park just a year to the day following the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games. Opening at 2pm on that day to visitors eager to enter the Park was a real thrill.

How was the final design chosen and what did this process look like?
The north of the Park was largely designed before London 2012. Design teams were engaged to create a new park hub, the Timber Lodge Café, and a spectacular nature based playground, the Tumbling Bay playground. Our processes required our priority themes, including local employment and engagement to be adhered to. The designs also needed to fit with the general feel of the landscape.

A conceptual simulation of a portion of New York City's Highline Park.  (Credit: Friends of the Highline)

A conceptual simulation of a portion of New York City’s Highline Park.
(Credit: Friends of the Highline)

Are there any other large public park projects that inspired the design or intention of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park?
The design of the southern part of the Park was led by James Corner Field Operations, who designed the Highline in New York. A number of the Park furniture features and the planting by Piet Oudolf mirrors the High Line. The Tumbling Bay playground in the north took some of its inspiration from the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens.

How was the progress reported to the public?
We held regular resident meetings and forums, including for our Youth Panel and Built Environment Access Panel. This enabled us to test ideas and ensure that the community were at the heart of the new landscape. More formerly, we attended various planning committees to gain permission for the work.

Have there been any lessons learned from this transformation of East London?
The three key lessons are – plan, plan, plan (and then be ready to be flexible if there are obstacles). The only way that the opening to time and budgets was achieved was through careful planning of design and testing them out with public and stakeholders.

The Arcelormittal Orbit sculpture at the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park. (Credit: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park/London Legacy Development Corporation)

The Arcelormittal Orbit sculpture at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
(Credit: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park/London Legacy Development Corporation)

What are unique and new components of the park?
As London’s newest visitor destination, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, is a place unlike any other. Visitors to the Park are able to enjoy beautiful parklands and waterways, world-famous sporting venues, arts and events and spectacular views from the ArcelorMittal Orbit. As a new heart for east London, the Park will also provide new homes, jobs and a cultural and education quarter. Visitors are able to enjoy world-class sporting venues that have been transformed to be used by both the local community and elite athletes, stroll in beautifully landscaped parklands, enjoy interactive water fountains and adventure playgrounds and explore free themed walking trails filled with fascinating facts about the Park.

Are there any local secrets to using the park?
The north of the Park is much quieter than the south and is home to the Timber Lodge Café a community hub nestled within the beautiful parklands. Timber-clad it both reflects and enhances the natural environment, with solar panels to produce its own green energy. There is a café which is perfect for relaxing in and flexible space for schools and community groups, and children can enjoy the Tumbling Bay Playground adjacent to the building, one of the UK’s most imaginative large-scale adventure play areas.

It is also worth noting that the Park is built around the waterways, so there are pathways and bridges at different levels, which offer different walks and different perspectives of the Park.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, the UK’s tallest sculpture, is the highest point in the Park and provides panoramic views across the whole Park, including in to the Stadium. In contrast, the Great British Gardens are in a quiet corner and provide a small oasis of calm.

What are some sustainable features of the park?
The Park is designed with sustainability at its heart. This means that it has been built in a sustainable way and has been designed to help future visitors and residents live sustainably. It is designed to do this in a number of ways, from promoting a healthy and sustainable lifestyle which encourages walking and cycling through safe and pleasant routes across the Park, through to using green building techniques that reduce the impact of development.

A public cycling facility at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.  (Credit: David Levene via Guardian News and Media Limited)

Lee Valley Velopark at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
(Credit: David Levene via Guardian News and Media Limited)

Once inside, what are the transportation options within the park?
We’ve worked hard to ensure that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park really is a park for all. The Park has been designed to be as accessible and inclusive as possible for a wide range of visitors, employees and future residents. The Park is easy to walk and cycle around and has good step-free access, hard-standing surfaces, regular seating and accessible Blue Badge car parking for each of the venues. A mobility service is available to support visitors with mobility impairment and recently the Park started running boat tours to give visitors a whole new perspective of the stunning scenery.

Since it’s opening, how popular has the park been compared to projected usage?
On Friday 22 August, the Park welcomed its 3 millionth visitor since reopening on 27 July 2013. The reaction, from both local people and those from further afield, has been hugely positive, whether its children playing in the fountains and wonderful playgrounds or swimming in the wake of champions in the London Aquatics Centre.

London Aquatics Centre at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. (Credit: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park/London Legacy Development Corporation)

The London Aquatics Centre at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
(Credit: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park/London Legacy Development Corporation)

How is the park maintained?
We have a Park Manager and Head of Estates and Facilities Management who look after the landscape and venues. They have produced a 10 year management plan and have already been successful in achieving a Green Flag award for the Park. As well as professional landscape staff, we have volunteers working on maintaining the gardens and parkland.

What can visitors look forward to in the future at the park?
There is so much happening and coming up at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, from local community projects to large scale events such as the Invictus Games which occurred last month (September 10-14). Transformation of the Stadium is on track to be ready for five matches of Rugby World Cup 2015 before work is completed for West Ham United to kick off in 2016. Building is underway on the Park’s first neighbourhood, Chobham Manor, with residents set to move in by late 2015 and we are also excited about the Park’s new cultural and education quarter, Olympicopolis, which will bring together a range of educational and artistic partners such as the V&A museum and UCL.

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London has set a great example for other host cities on how to re-use their Olympic size investments. Stay up to date with the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Facebook,  Twitter and Google+.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Big Projects Start with a Big Ideas

This month we are continuing our series on BIG projects. All Big projects start with big ideas. As we prepare to share some of the world’s most fascinating projects with you in the coming weeks we wanted to start the month by sharing one big idea.

Roads, highways, and interstates line, intertwine and connect all across our country. We use them to get from one point to another whether its by car, bus, bike, or on foot. Now imagine if our country’s roads were solar powered. Solar Roadways is the big idea of Julie and Scott Brusaw, a married electrical engineer and counselor.

The idea behind Solar Roadways is to replace asphalt laden streets with the material used with black boxes, the recording device used on airplanes, that would house solar cells to collect energy. The Brusaw’s knew that black boxes protect sensitive electronics, why not also protect solar road panels? These panels could also be designed to include LED lights to illuminate roadways at night or a heat element to defrost snow and ice on the streets.

Ideas are great because they are about possibilities. Turning an idea into a reality is when ideas are tested against constraints: time, materials, construction and cost to name a few. The Brusaw’s have received the chance to take their BIG idea one step further. In 2009, they received a contract from the Federal Highway Administration  to construct a prototype for the first solar road panel. In 2011, they received another contract to complete a second phase of the prototype which will result in a parking lot made of solar road panels that can be tested with different weather and sunlight conditions.

While we will have to wait and see whether the Brusaw’s will be successful at achieving their dream of “upgrading our infrastructure – roads and power grid – to the 21st century,” we have to give them credit for having a BIG idea and taking it from possibility to real-world testing.

You can learn more about the BIG idea behind Solar Roadways in the video below.

Stay with us next week as we bring you more BIG ideas that are becoming realities.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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The little street car that could….and did

The modern streetcar in Tucson, Arizona is not like any of the ones you have seen in old Hollywood movies. Remove any image of Marlon Brandon shouting “Stella” from your mind when thinking about this state-of-the-art streetcar.

While Tucson’s streetcar may not look like ones from A Streetcar Named Desire, there were a lot of big desires and hopes riding on it. Primarily the desire that it will help spur economic development and revitalize the city’s downtown.

Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation

Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation

Just a few years ago, Tucson watched Phoenix, it’s big neighbor to the north, successfully build out a new lightrail system. At this time, mass transit in the second largest city in the country’s fastest growing state (according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest estimates) was only a plan on paper, a vision of  the City of Tucson’s Department of Transportation and many residents.

The first real chance for the City of Tucson to install a mass transit system came when the project was added to the $2.1 billion, 20-year Regional Transportation Authority Plan approved by voters in 2006. Inclusion in the plan provided public support and the largest portion of funding, $87.7 million, for a modern streetcar. An additional $63 million in funds came from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant provided to the City of Tucson by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2010. This helped close the funding gap and increase momentum on the project.

The Cadence, new University of Arizona student housing in downtown Tucson.       (Credit: Ankrom Moisan)

The Cadence, new University of Arizona student housing in downtown Tucson. (Credit: Ankrom Moisan)

Throughout it’s construction phase, Tucson watched as the modern streetcar turned desires of revitalizing the city’s funky and vintage downtown area into a reality. Developers and business owners jumped at the chance to be part of transit-oriented development and set up shop along the route, and they are still jumping. Tucson’s downtown has gained hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investment thanks to the installation of the streetcar. Bustling, hip new restaurants, bistros, and bars now line the route, and the University of Arizona worked with developers to build new student housing downtown making it easy for students to take the streetcar to and from campus.

This past July, Sun Link – the rebranded Tucson Streetcar,  began operations, an effort 30-years in the making. Today, Sun Link runs seven days a week along the 23-stop, four-mile route that connect’s the University of Arizona, downtown business districts, entertainment venues, and the convention center. Members of the community came out in mass to celebrate the grand opening of Sun Link. The little streetcar that could saw 17,000 riders its first day of operations during a free ride promotion. A little more than two months into its operations and there are murmurs of a new desire to expand the route. Sun Link is on the right track to become an icon in Tucson’s community landscape.

Today, we continue our series on BIG projects hearing from Shellie Ginn, a Transportation Administrator for the City of Tucson’s Department of Transportation and the project manager and champion who worked on the Sun Link for the past decade. We welcome her insights.

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Looking west down Congress Street in  Tucson, AZ in the 1890's. (Credit: Tucson Historical Society)

Looking west down Congress Street in Tucson, AZ in the 1890’s.
(Credit: Tucson Historical Society)

Sun Link is a first-of-its kind transportation option for Tucson. Where did the idea for this modern streetcar originate?
First, let me remind you that we once had historic trollies running through Tucson in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The concept of the modern streetcar was one of several options considered during an Alternatives Analysis started in 2004. The goal was to connect activity centers in the central/downtown Tucson area and provide a vehicle for economic development. Ultimately, the streetcar was selected as the mode of transportation to meet those goals.

Why was a fixed-guided electric rail system chosen over other alternative transportation systems such as a lightrail?
The streetcar was selected due to the greater economic development potential it offered to this area. Other cities such as Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington had seen a revitalization of their downtowns due to this type of transit system. We had similar activity centers and were certain we could see the same results.

The Sun Link route connects the University of Arizona, business districts, and the convention center. What other alternative routes were considered and why was its current route chosen?
The majority of the current route was in all of the alternatives considered. The areas where we had different alignments were around the University of Arizona (around vs. through?) and also how long the system would be. We looked at multiple alignments that included one on 6th Street versus 2nd Street and a longer alignment that traveled up Campbell Avenue to Grant Road. The current route was selected due to its use of roadways that were more pedestrian focused and also directly connected five districts (Mercado District, Downtown, 4th Avenue District, Main Gate District and the University of Arizona). Also, traversing through the University of Arizona campus had the greatest ridership potential.

Sun Link Route Map (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

Sun Link Route Map
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

What type of community involvement was done? What aspects of the project did the community help define?
The community was involved from the beginning of the project. We developed a Citizens Liaison Group (CLG) which was made up of representatives from the neighborhoods along the alignment, business association groups in each of the districts being considered for the alignment and special interest groups such as the Tucson/Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Commission on Disability Issues. Education facilities were represented as well. This group helped review multiple technologies and alignments ultimately selecting the modern streetcar as the preferred technology and the current alignment as the preferred route.

Since Sun Link was new to the community, what type of public education efforts were undertaken?
Public Education and outreach were critical to this project and was included throughout the entire ten years this project has been in development, design, construction, testing and finally, operations. Reaching out to the public and including them in the decision making process led to a transit system that is exceeding its ridership goals and promoting economic development along the entire four-mile line. Our outreach included many presentations to stakeholders along the alignment and throughout the Tucson community, public open houses, and briefings to various leadership in the City, County, State and Federal government. Public outreach and education will be ongoing as a new group of students arrive on the University of Arizona campus each Fall Semester.

Sun Link has been credited with helping to revitalize Tucson’s downtown. How has it done this and what are some of the economic development benefits it has brought to the community?
The Tucson Streetcar has been instrumental in the location of several student housing developments along the four mile line. There are over 3,000 units along the line. There are over 50 new restaurants, bars and cafes that have opened up along the four mile line. Over $800 million of public and private investment has been made with an estimate of over 1,500 long term regional jobs created as a result of the streetcar.

An estimated 3,500 people rode Sun Link on its first paid day of operations. Has this ridership sustained? Who are the main people riding on the weekdays versus weekends?
The average weekday ridership is approximately 5,200 per day and the average weekend ridership is 2,700 (with Saturdays in the 5,000 range). There is a mix of ridership to include students, office workers, people riding in the evenings for dinner and entertainment and neighborhoods taking advantage of the streetcar to ride along the four miles.

"Wandering Stars” by artists Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock at the Granada Ave/Cushing Street stop. (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

“Wandering Stars” by artists Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock at the Granada Ave/Cushing Street stop.
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

One unique aspect of the Sun Link route are the different art pieces incorporated at each of its 23 stops and its Operations and Maintenance facility. How were the artists and their pieces chosen?
The art was selected through the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC). Eight stops were identified along the alignment (two per mile) and a simple stop concept and the maintenance facility were added as potential art locations as well. TPAC oversaw a public selection process and the artists were selected based on their artistic concepts through a committee.

What are the opportunities to expand the Sun Link route in the future? What would it take to do so?
Potential extensions are identified in the Pima Association of Governments High Capacity Transit Study from 2009. The next step is to start studying the potential routes and determine what funding will be used.

The Sun Link breaking the banner at it's grand opening celebration on July 25, 2014. (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

The Sun Link breaking the banner at it’s grand opening celebration on July 25, 2014.
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

You served as the City of Tucson’s Project Manager for Sun Link for 10 years and guided it from conception to implementation. What was your favorite part of this project?
Over the last ten years, I was able to watch a concept become a reality and see the direct benefits of this type of system in the five districts along the streetcar alignment. My favorite part was the Grand Opening and seeing all of these people wait in long lines with smiles on their faces. It has been such a pleasure to work on a project of this stature.

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For more information on Sun Link visit www.sunlinkstreetcar.com, like it on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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Harnessing the power of the sun

When you think of the Mojave Desert, two words likely come to mind – dry and hot as well as images of Joshua trees, sand dunes, and the barren aptly named Death Valley. As of last year, you can now add a sea of glimmering solar mirrors to that list. Make that a sea of more than 300,000 glimmering solar mirrors that make up the world’s largest solar thermal plant.  The Mojave Desert is now home to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System which began commercial operation in 2013 and has been harnessing the energy of the desert sun to power homes in Southern California and reduce the state’s carbon footprint.  The clean electricity produced by the 392 megawatt solar thermal power project is also helping the state known for it’s highways and traffic congestion avoid millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants, an equivalent to taking  more than 70,000 cars of the road annually.

The three units of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. (Credit BrightSource Energy)

The three units of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.
(Credit BrightSource Energy)

In addition to being the largest solar thermal plant in the world, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has also achieved another first. It received the 2014 Power Magazine’s Plant of the Year award, making it the first renewable energy plant to receive the honor.

The world’s largest solar thermal plant became a reality thanks to a collaborative public/private partnership between the United States Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, NRG, BrightSource Energy, Bechtel, and Google. A true testament to how these two sectors can come together on common ground to support the greater good of advancing renewable energy in our country.

Today, we kick off our annual series on BIG projects hearing from Jeff Holland, Director of Communications for NRG, the project’s owner. He fills us in on the vision and goal for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, how stakeholders and the world were kept informed of the project’s progress and the plant’s operations and economic benefit. We welcome his insights.

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The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System came to fruition through a collaboration of multiple corporate partners. Who were these players and what did they each bring to the table?
With NRG Energy’s leadership as the project owner, equity partners Google and BrightSource Energy and Bechtel’s engineering and construction expertise, the team set a new standard for solar thermal power. At the same time, we’re strengthening the nation’s economy and solar supply chain, as well as helping to shift our country closer to energy independence.

What was the overall vision and goal of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System?
The goal was for Ivanpah to become the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) facility, an engineering marvel that increases America’s supply of renewable energy and one that produces clean, reliable solar electricity that will power more than 140,000 homes through California’s two largest utilities—Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). Ivanpah is a magnificent example of a public/private partnership to bring more renewable energy to our country.

Credit: A Google Earth image of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System adjacent to the Ivanpah dry lake bed. (Credit: Mojave Desert Blog)

Credit: A Google Earth image of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System adjacent to the Ivanpah dry lake bed.
(Credit: Mojave Desert Blog)

What was the rationale behind locating the solar electric plant on the Ivanpah dry lakebed? Can you describe the environmental considerations behind this choice?
This is land leased to us by the Bureau of Land Management and the lease agreement dictates that we return the land to its previously undisturbed state once the power purchase agreements expire.

As part of our ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, we are working with the appropriate state, federal and local agencies to apply science in our mitigation efforts on a wide range of carefully constructed wildlife and biological protection plans.

While we take the work we are doing very seriously and are putting the measures in place and spending the money on monitoring efforts, it is important to note that, climate change is by far the largest threat to life on earth and we have spent billions of dollars on projects like Ivanpah in our quest to find ways to provide clean, sustainable and renewable energy.

Please describe the general design of the plant and how these design standards contributed to a more sustainable project?
Ivanpah uses software to control hundreds of thousands of tracking mirrors, known as heliostats, to directly concentrate sunlight onto a boiler filled with water that sits atop a tower. When the sunlight hits the boiler, the water inside is heated and creates high temperature steam. Once produced, the steam is used in a conventional turbine to produce electricity. Using this concentrated solar thermal technology.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System begins operation. (Credit: BrightSource Energy)

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System begins operation.
(Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Was any outreach conducted to engage stakeholders in the Mojave Desert area?
Of course. NRG is 100% committed to working with the communities in which we operate, and to protecting the health and safety of people, wildlife, plant life, and ecosystems in the areas in which we work.

How did you communicate the project’s progress to the rest of the world. Which communication tools did you find most effective?
We conducted community outreach by attending and speaking at various community-focused events and public hearings as well as direct mail campaigns and developing a project website where people could learn about the progress and gather information on the project’s milestones and accomplishments. We worked with the state and federal groups in developing and reporting all plans to the California Energy Commission who also continue to publish all of our information onto their own website where people can opt-in for updates as well.

Were there any challenges or barriers to receiving public support for the project? If so, how did you overcome these challenges or barriers?
We have worked closely with state and federal agencies and all relevant stakeholders from the moment we began our development of Ivanpah to responsibly address the challenges unique to Ivanpah’s size, location and technology.

As part of our ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, we are working with the appropriate state, federal and local agencies to apply science in our mitigation efforts on a wide range of carefully constructed wildlife and biological protection plans.

I think the public overwhelmingly supports clean energy projects such as Ivanpah when you factor in that it prevents the emission of 400,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere – tantamount to removing 72,000 cars from California’s roads annually.

Construction workers secure a heliostat onto a pylon. (Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Construction workers secure a heliostat onto a pylon.
(Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Construction of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System required thousands of workers. How many people are currently employed by the plant?
At peak construction we employed more than 2,600 people on-site. The project now has 65 employees responsible for the day-to-day operations of the facility. The project also employs 25 biologists for protection and support of wildlife in addition to performing other biological work for the project. At the height of our work, we employed as many as 160 biologists on-site for our Head Start program for desert tortoises. The project provided a local infusion of $300 million in state and local tax benefits at a time when the US economy was going through the “Great Recession” and was in much need of good paying jobs. Total construction wages paid eclipsed $250 million and total employee earnings over the course of the project are expected to be more than $650 million.

How does the plant’s energy production measure up against other similar solar projects?

Ivanpah is the world’s largest solar thermal plant and approximately 100 MWs more than our Agua Caliente photovoltaic (PV) solar plant which produces 290 MWs, which is currently the nation’s largest fully-operational PV plant.

Are there any lessons learned from this project?
As with any large infrastructure improvement project there will be lessons learned. With Ivanpah, we attempted something that had never been done on this scale – and with a brand new technology. We are constantly improving our processes and efficiencies on site and learning about ways we can optimize the levels of power we are producing. We are generating massive amounts of data that will help with future projects going forward and our environmental research work has been ground-breaking for the science community.

Credit: Hotelzon

Credit: Hotelzon

This project is a great example of how corporate partners are coming together to help California to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal. What are some best practices people can do in their own homes or at work that can help contribute to meeting our state’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020?
Ivanpah is a magnificent example of a public/private partnership to bring more renewable energy to our country. Ivanpah has drawn support from the Department of Energy (DOE) and NRG due to their tremendous benefits and the hard work of the original project developers. The DOE chose to award loan guarantees to these projects to provide debt support to the original project developers based on the economic, environmental and energy security benefits those projects will bring to Americans. Because projects like this are so important, NRG invested more than a billion of its own capital to provide equity support to the projects because they offer the potential for quality returns and the ability to move clean energy forward in a meaningful way.

We are doing our part, but there are things individual consumers can do to reduce their carbon footprint in their homes. Things like installing solar rooftop systems, purchasing a programmable thermostat like Nest, changing their lighting to compact fluorescence (CFLs), weather-stripping and insulation, turning off electronics and your cable modem when not in use and buying Energy-Star-rated appliances.

Fed Ex Field in Washington D.C. (Credit NRG Energy)

Fed Ex Field in Washington D.C. has an NRG solar installation that can produce up to 2 megawatts of power. Enough power to meet 20% of the stadium’s power needs on game days and all of its power needs on non-game days.
(Credit NRG Energy)

What’s next for NRG? What projects should we be looking forward to?
The energy industry is on the cusp of a revolution and NRG is driving toward a consumer-focused future. Through innovation, the freedom of choice and the self-empowerment, the consumer will realize the enormous benefit of something our generation never experienced – energy self-determination.

NRG is bullish on renewable energy, based on ongoing improvements in the technologies and the effective commercialization of new technologies (evidenced by projects like Ivanpah) that we see continuing over the next five years.

We think solar and wind will become the clear competitive alternatives to fossil generation in the foreseeable future. Photovoltaic solar costs continue to go down, driven by a decrease in panel prices and companies like NRG working to bring down the overall balance of system cost.

In addition to our large-scale wind and solar utility projects, NRG owns high-profile distributed solar installations at several NFL stadiums, including FedEx Field in Washington, DC; MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ; Patriot Place in Boston; Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; and the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., which is LEEDs certified and will be the first U.S. professional sports venue to achieve net zero energy performance.

Lastly, NRG owns 40 MW of combined distributed solar at various commercial locations in several states, including municipal buildings, hospitals, industrial buildings, schools, universities and retail chains and also partners with notable organizations, such as MGM (Mandalay Bay) and Starwood Resorts to offer solar energy solutions to private industry.

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Solar power is all around us. Whether you live in one of the homes receiving electricity produced by the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a student at a University, a fan cheering on your favorite NFL team in their home stadium, or a guest staying and playing at a Las Vegas resort, the power of the sun may just be helping to power these aspects of your life.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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Report Cards Aren’t Just for Schools

Earlier this week, we celebrated Labor Day. That means many schools across the country started session, and with school comes report cards. Report cards identify where students excel or need to improve. But student’s aren’t the only ones that receive report cards. Every four years our country receives a report card on its infrastructure systems from the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Like the alphabet is to words, infrastructure is to the systems that create water, energy, and roadways. Infrastructure is the building block of everything. It is our roads and bridges. It delivers water and electricity to our homes. It’s what keeps commerce coming through our ports. And it is the schools where our future leaders are taking their own educational journeys.

Credit: Streetsblog USA

Credit: Streetsblog USA

The report card for America’s Infrastructure is significant because just like with students in school it shows our country where it needs to improve and offers key solutions for how to do so. An advisory council of ASCE members assigns grades using the following criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation.

In 2013 America’s infrastructure systems scored the following:

  • Dams – D
  • Drinking  Water – D
  • Hazardous Waste – D
  • Levees – D-
  • Solid Waste – B -
  • Wastewater – D
  • Aviation – D
  • Bridges – C+
  • Inland Waterways  – D-
  • Ports – C
  • Rail – C+
  • Roads – D
  • Transit – D
  • Public Parks and Recreation – C-
  • Schools – D
  • Energy – D+

This past year America’s infrastructure GPA was a D+, somewhat of an improvement from the country’s typical D average. The other promising aspect of the 2013 report card is that no categories declined.

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Credit: Hearst Communications, Inc.

So how does America improve it’s infrastructure GPA? In many ways it’s similar to how students improve their GPA. Investing in the future through studying and dedication brings grades up. Investing in the country’s future through funding, policy, and public support helps projects move forward improving their grades with the ASCE. This was true with rail category in 2013. The country’s rail system gained more private investment for efficiency and connectivity and saw increased ridership (Amtrak reported it’s highest ridership of 31.2 million passengers in 2012). As a result, this category achieved the highest improved grade moving from a C- four years ago to a C+. While this change doesn’t seem like a lot, the improvement is significant and promising.

Credit: BrightSource Energy

Credit: BrightSource Energy

This month as we kick off our annual series on BIG projects, we will take a look at some of the projects helping to improve America’s infrastructure report card. We will learn about advancements in renewable energy, land use, transportation, and more. Some of these projects are the valedictorians of their fields and others are still improving with lots of potential for the future. Big or small there is no doubt these projects have made a BIG impact on improving the BIG systems that connect us and keep us moving.

We hope you’ll stay with us and share your BIG ideas along the way.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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