Wide-open spaces is what West Bowl at Sierra-at-Tahoe is now all about. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s like riding a bike.
I lost count of how many people told me that before I hit the slopes last month for the first time in more than six years.
They were right. Just like when I’m on my ebike on a mountain bike trail I seem to fall at least once. Same with skiing. Only I did it after being stopped. It’s like I just fell over. I laughed while my friend looked at me wondering what the heck just happened.
I will tell you it’s easier to get up after a mountain bike fall than a skiing tumble. I didn’t remember it being any big deal to pop up after falling in the snow. Apparently, I don’t pop up anymore. I wriggle, and laugh and wonder, like my friend, what the hell is happening here.
Darla Sadler finds some soft snow to ski through at Sierra on Jan. 23. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
This is my friend, Darla, who I grew up skiing with. She’s a beautiful skier. So fluid, and seemingly effortless. I’ve never demonstrated those traits on skis. Even less so in January. It was obvious I was rusty.
We spent a day at Sierra-at-Tahoe and a day at Palisades Tahoe. Both were working ski days for me. I know, tough job. Sierra was always my favorite resort when I lived in South Lake Tahoe. Palisades was my favorite growing up in the Bay Area. Both are places where Darla and I have had countless days of fun.
Wow. It’s the simplest word I have to describe West Bowl at Sierra. I stopped, paused, looked all around, took deep breaths with tears in my eyes before pushing on to the lift.
The devastation from the 2021 Caldor Fire is profound. It ripped through this ski resort near Echo Summit with such intensity that the landscape is forever changed. It will never be the same ski resort. So much of the tree skiing is gone as well as the stashes of powder that could linger for days after a storm. That’s because the trees are gone—all 34,000 of them.
My profound visceral experience surprised me. I have driven through the burn area multiple times. I’ve hiked parts of it. I’ve mountain biked in the burn. Something, though, about skiing at Sierra jarred me. Thinking about it still moves me.
Kae figuring out what to do on the slopes. (Image: Darla Sadler)
I used to have a ritual where I would start at the farthest run off West Bowl, then ski each one. This was my favorite area of the mountain. On this particular day, while the coverage was good, the conditions varied. It was slick on many of the West Bowl runs because the wind blows through there like never before. Other runs were left ungroomed, but this was not a powder day so we opted not to try them.
I need to go again. To see how this area really skis. This one experience was not enough.
In the past I also enjoyed a ton of runs off the Grandview lift. On this particular day I was not about to go on any black diamonds. I’ve never been an advanced skier, but I could always get down just about anything. I knew better than to test my luck that day. Nonetheless, we found plenty of fun groomed runs off Grandview, where the conditions were wonderful. Not a single complaint—other than my ability being subpar.
Even more amazing is how the fire swept through this area. At a point near the top of the Grandview lift it’s impossible (honest) to not know such a devastating fire hit the resort. Trees were tall, with boughs covered in snow. It was just like I remembered.
Between Grandview and West Bowl it was as though I had skied two extremely different resorts, and, yet, this was still the one wonderful Sierra-at-Tahoe. It’s always been one of my favorite resorts. If I were still living at Lake Tahoe (or even still considered myself a regular skier), this is where I would still go. I’d take the time to learn how it skis post-fire, find which runs would be my new favorites. Maybe discover new trees to schuss through.
Kae Reed and John Rice, general manager of Sierra.
The Sierra vibe is still intact. That hasn’t gone away. But West Bowl, wow, just wow.
The next day it was onto Palisades Tahoe. What different conditions these were compared to the last time I was at the resort—which was in July 2017 when I was wearing shorts to ski in. This January day was blustery and visibility was horrendous.
We were there for me to do a story about the Base to Base Gondola that links Palisades and Alpine. This really seems like an engineering marvel to me.
With the crappy weather day we didn’t see a ton. Lake Tahoe was out there somewhere. Nonetheless, it was an incredibly smooth ride—especially considering the windy conditions. We didn’t ski the Alpine side even though we were over there. This had to do with the threat of winds getting worse, meaning if the gondola shutdown, we would have to take a bus back to our starting point. Plus, neither of us knows the resort that well, so better to go back to Palisades where we spent much of our youth.
The skiing, well, the visibility had me losing my confidence. The snow was less than ideal. It was just one of those days where if I had a choice, I would not have been there. But work called and this was our chosen day.
I’d like to ride the gondola again to really appreciate the views. While it’s open for sightseers, it only operates in the winter.
What I realized, though, is that I really don’t miss skiing. These two days didn’t invigorate me to want to ski more often. I’m not ready to sell or give away my equipment, but it is the first time those thoughts have crossed my mind.
One thing that shocked me about both resorts is the cost of a daily lift ticket—$145 at Sierra and $259 at Palisades. I realize the most expensive way to buy a ticket in this modern world is to walk up to the window that day. Purchasing a ticket online in advance, multi-day packages and season tickets will drop the price. Still, it’s hard for me to justify that kind of money going forward.
While I have NPR as a preset button, I’m not a regular listener. I can’t list the popular hosts. Nor can I tell you how Ari Shapiro’s debut book ended up on my list of books to read. But I’m glad it did.
Even better is that I listened to The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening (HarperOne, 2023) because Shapiro read it. What a voice. But I’m guessing some of you already know his voice since he is one of the hosts of NPR’s All Things Considered.
This is more than another journalist’s memoir. It’s about the people and issues Shapiro has covered as a radio broadcaster. It’s about taking a unique path to his occupation. It’s about being gay. It’s about being a performer. It’s about life.
One of the things I really liked about the book is that is sounded so honest. Shapiro allows himself to be vulnerable. He admits insecurities. He admits mistakes.
It’s not everyone who can cover hard news and features.
With all journalists, the best skill is to be able to listen, and then let the story evolve no matter what the original idea was. Shapiro even talks about these concepts.
It’s hard to imagine someone who would not thoroughly enjoy this book. Well, those who thought the massacre at the Pulse nightclub was OK, they probably aren’t going to want to read this book. Shapiro’s account of this tragedy is gripping.
He is definitely a great storyteller, and his story was worth telling.
In the last 12 months I have spent $1,582.45 on fuel for the Nissan. This compares to the prior 12-month period where I spent $2,547.93 to fill the Jeep’s tank.
I realize miles traveled need charting as well—about 10,000 miles each of those years.
Yes, I know there is always a fluctuation in what it costs per gallon of gas. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports the average price for a gallon of gasoline in California in 2022 was $5.406, while last year it was $4.879. So, this would partly account for the difference in the above dollar figures. (While I have filled up in Nevada and Oregon in the past two years, 99.9 percent of my stops are in California.)
That 2002 Jeep came with a stated 15 miles per gallon in the city, 18 miles on the highway. That’s from the sticker that for some reason I still have, but expect to toss when I’m done writing this.
In reality, the Jeep got about 17 miles per gallon on a regular basis, with all freeway hitting 20 on occasion.
That same paper says the Wrangler had a 19 gallon gas tank. I beg to differ. It was more like 15 gallons.
(Side note: that sticker says I paid $895 extra for air conditioning. I wonder if any vehicle even has the option to not have a/c today.)
The Nissan is supposed to get 24 mpg in town, 30 on the highway, or a combined 27 mpg. The best I’ve logged was last month between Chico and El Dorado Hills, where I clocked 39.5 mpg. That was all highway driving.
I am more regularly tallying 25 mpg, which is pretty much all in town driving.
It has a 14.5 gallon fuel tank.
The telling figure would be to know how many gallons of gas I actually consumed each of those years. I don’t have those numbers, unfortunately.
Besides saving money, I love being able to drive farther between fill ups. I like knowing I’m doing a little better by not consuming as much gas but still driving as much. I suppose I could work on driving fewer miles to be more environmentally friendly. Something to think about.
I realize I could have bought a better vehicle when it comes to gas mileage. I could have gone hybrid or electric. Maybe one day. But for now I’m thrilled with the improvement on gas mileage and decrease in the outflow of money.
Humanizing a utility company. That’s what Patti Poppe has been trying to do since she took over as CEO of PG&E in January 2021.
While the gas and electric company is viewed by many with hostility because of its responsibility with starting deadly catastrophic wildfires throughout Northern California and for increasing rates without consumers having much say, Poppe uses a word not often found in corporate America—love.
Patti Poppe has been CEO of PG&E since January 2021. (Image: PG&E)
“We bring love to the workplace in a lot of ways. It starts with safety for sure,” the 55-year-old Poppe said. “I attended the funeral for a co-worker a few years ago and it occurred to me on that day that we often wait until it’s too late to express our full emotions.”
She said showing love for customers, the 27,000 employees and 14,000 daily contractors is accomplished by speaking up when knowing something isn’t right, isn’t safe, or one just doesn’t understand something.
“In that way we protect one another,” Poppe said.
While consumers love when the lights come on and the furnace blows hot air, paying the electric and gas bill often elicits other emotions.
Residential PG&E ratepayers on average saw their bills go up 12.8 percent in January or $32.50. (The utility had requested a 17.9 percent increase.)
When the California Public Utility Commission delayed its decision about the four-year (2023-26) general rate case until last November it resulted in the 2023 and 2024 increases being combined starting last month.
This series of adjustments will have residential gas and electric bills going up an average of 3.6 percent over three years (2024-26). Bills will increase on average another $4.50 in 2025, and then decrease by almost $8 in 2026.
The bulk of the millions of dollars that will be collected with the latest increases are slated to fund wildfire risk reduction projects, electric capacity upgrades to support new business connections, and meet climate resiliency goals. Poppe defends the increases by saying they are nowhere near the 6 percent to 8 percent inflationary spikes in other sectors, adding she was able keep them lower by making internal cuts.
The following is a Q&A with Poppe.
What do you believe are PG&E’s best solutions to curtail wildfire ignitions from its equipment?
At PG&E we have made a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop, and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made toward our goal. We’ve reduced wildfire risk with what we call our layers of wildfire protection, which we’ve continued to refine since 2017.
Let me share a few of those protections: Our 10,000 miles of undergrounding effort is well underway. We buried 350 miles of powerlines last year in the highest fire threat areas—the most we’ve ever buried in a year and we did it for less cost than we had forecast. Also, our Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings turn off power automatically in one-tenth of a second if a hazard is detected on the lines that could cause a fire, helping to keep our customers in high-fire risk and surrounding areas safe.
As of November 2023, we had reduced CPUC-reportable ignitions in our high-risk areas by 27 percent from the previous year and 67 percent from 2017. Overall, we’ve reduced wildfire risk from our equipment by 94 percent.
The California Public Utilities Commission recommended a $45 million penalty in connection with the 2021 Dixie Fire, the state’s second largest inferno. How will this affect ratepayers?
We are not seeking cost recovery from our customers for this. We continue to make it right and make it safe for our customers and our hometowns by resolving claims from past fires and through our work to make our system safer every day.
What are your thoughts about the CPUC wanting to create a rate structure based on customers’ income?
I want to assure our customers that the affordability of our service is top of mind for me and all my co-workers at PG&E. We know that energy costs are very important for our customers and for our state’s economy. We are taking actions now to keep annual customer cost increases at or below assumed inflation between 2 percent and 4 percent.
As required by California Assembly Bill 205, we submitted a joint proposal last year to the CPUC along with Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to separate fixed infrastructure costs from the usage cost of electricity on residential customers’ bills.
Our joint proposal would decrease electric bills for lower-income residential customers, improve bill transparency and predictability, and advance clean energy goals. The CPUC will have a thorough and open process for evaluating the proposal in the coming years.
PG&E has filed for bankruptcy more than once. What is the solution to staying solvent?
We continue to focus every day on safely operating our gas and electric system for our customers and our hometowns. A safe utility is a financially healthy utility, and a financially healthy utility is essential to affordably meeting customer needs and keeping people safe.
We are deploying lean manufacturing tools to our utility business. Those lean tools are creating a way to increase value to customers at lower costs. That fundamental improvement for our hometowns is the bedrock for a successful energy provider, and we look forward to living up to the expectations of our customers.
Do you believe it would be better if utilities were not publicly traded?
I’m a big believer that the investor-owned utility model has significant customer benefits. Capital from our investors is essential to fund investments today in our climate-resilient infrastructure, so we can spread out the cost to customers over the life of the assets. That means customers get the full benefit today and pay over the long run.
Between salary, bonuses and stock options, you receive about $15 million a year. How do you justify that compensation package when ratepayers’ bills keep going up?
The latest data, from 2022, shows that among the top 20 U.S. electric utilities, we are in the middle of the pack for CEO-to-median employee pay ratio. It’s important to note that our 2023-2026 general rate case application did not seek cost recovery from customers for my compensation and benefits.
Investor groups like Climate Action 100+ believe compensation for utility executives should be tied to emission reduction goals. What are your thoughts about this philosophy?
We align executive compensation with safety and operational performance, which we think are important indicators of how we’re delivering for our hometowns. At the same time, we are committed to reducing our carbon footprint, reaching net zero energy and doing our part to heal the planet. Already, 95 percent of the electricity we deliver to our customers is from greenhouse-gas free resources, and we continue to add more renewable energy along with battery storage, microgrids and other solutions aimed at further advancing our climate goals.
You started your career in 1990 at General Motors as an associate manufacturing engineer. Why the switch to energy?
I had a great career at General Motors, and when I was there, I got a call from DTE Energy in Detroit with a job offer. My husband and I took a big leap of faith for our family and made the decision for me to move to DTE to run power plants, which was a great way to learn the energy industry.
What was your first job? What was your first career job?
When I turned 18, I was a waitress at night and worked at a brake manufacturer as an intern during the day. When I graduated from engineering school at Purdue University, I started working at General Motors as a manufacturing engineer in 1990.
Is this the job you wanted when you were young? If not, what were your early career aspirations?
I wanted to be a TV news broadcaster, but my father, who was a nuclear engineer at Consumers Energy in Michigan, guided me in a different direction. I was the youngest of seven girls and his final attempt to get an engineer. And he did! He knew I was good at math and science, and really took a stand for my future by encouraging me to go to engineering school. We went to an engineering career fair at Purdue University together that left quite an impression on me. I ended up studying industrial engineering at Purdue.
How will artificial intelligence help or hurt your business?
We see tremendous potential in artificial intelligence in keeping our customers safe. AI is one of the technologies that has supported our wildfire protection efforts. For example, we’ve installed over 600 high-definition cameras that have AI capabilities. These cameras can detect the difference between fog and smoke, and automatically alert our Hazard Awareness & Warning Center as well as local first responders, enabling speedy response and a safer community. We’re also using AI to choose optimal places for undergrounding based on ignition potential and consequences.
What concerns and goals do you have for your business and industry for the next five years?
The energy industry is at an inflection point. We’re working to build an energy system that is resilient to climate challenges, and we have an incredible opportunity to do this the right way for the future.
That’s why we created our 2023 Research and Development Strategy Report, which outlines nearly 70 of the highest priority challenges we face in building California’s energy future and invites innovators to join us in solving them. For example, in the next 20 years, we expect our electric load to grow by 70 percent; much of that from new electric vehicles.
That’s astounding growth, particularly after years of relatively flat demand. Growth on this scale will touch every corner of our system and requires a re-imagining of the grid. We need to make the smartest investments in the right way at the lowest cost for customers.
What one government regulation would you change and why?
I’m pleased that the state has shifted its views on nuclear energy in recent years and has opened the door for us to pursue renewing our operating licenses at Diablo Canyon Power Plant on the Central Coast. We’ve now filed our license renewal application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, just the beginning of this regulatory process. It would be a great honor to continue operating the plant well into the future. Diablo Canyon is a tremendous resource for the state, one of the safest nuclear plants in the nation, and the state’s largest power plant and producer of clean energy.
What companies in your industry do you admire and why?
Recently, I was delighted to attend the opening of a new facility in our service area focused on removing carbon from the atmosphere—an exciting new climate technology solution. A key takeaway from the event was how all of us need to be a part of the solution to not only help reach net zero emissions, but to begin to heal the planet. When I think of others I admire, I think of this ecosystem of utilities, startups, technology companies, community groups, local officials, and others who are all working together to support our shared, statewide goals for a decarbonized future.
What about your business keeps you up at night?
We run a 24/7/365 business, so I’m always concerned about the wellbeing of my co-workers who are out there on the system, no matter the conditions. I also know that our system has never been safer, and we continue to make it safer yet. When it comes to safety, our work is never done.
What is your approach to working with different generations?
We have a wonderful array of generations working here at PG&E. From my co-worker Billy Atkins who’s in his 90s and has been at the company for 70 years to our youngest co-workers just getting their start. It’s one of our strengths. Our younger co-workers have an amazing opportunity to learn from more experienced co-workers who have potentially worked here for decades. And our younger team members are bringing new ideas and new ways of approaching work.
Other than money how do you measure success?
At PG&E, we measure our success by what we call the triple bottom line: ensuring that our work and our outcomes serve people, the planet and California’s prosperity all in equal measure. I’ll also say that we constantly measure and evaluate our performance through our Lean Operating System, which we’ve introduced over the past couple of years. Lean is rooted in the idea of daily visibility of the work, and a culture where both concerns and good ideas flow easily and promptly from the frontlines to the back office and back again. It’s the hallmark of successful companies.
How do you motivate people?
When I started at PG&E, fundamental changes were needed both operationally and culturally. A focus on leading with love has been a key ingredient for that change. A loving, joyful coworker experience translates to how we can serve our customers, our hometowns and our planet. I believe the world needs more love and we can be a force for it in the hometowns we serve.
How do you handle negative feedback?
I’ve learned along the way that love is a powerful force in the workplace, enabling teams to do amazing things. If we can approach even negative feedback with love and openness, a world of possibility can open up.
What is the most adventurous thing you have ever done?
Aside from agreeing to become the CEO of PG&E, the most adventurous thing I think I ever did was agree to an opportunity to help build a vehicle assembly plant in India when I was 24 years old. For a girl who had never left the country, this was a big decision.
Rules for where ebikes can be ridden seem arbitrary.
I understand not wanting motorized vehicles on paved multi-use paths. But to ban all ebikes and not just certain classes of them doesn’t make sense. They aren’t all alike.
Knowingly breaking the rules when it comes to riding an ebike. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
My ebike requires me to pedal for the motor to engage. That’s why it’s a pedal-assist bike. Yes, it’s still an electric bike.
Last month I took her out on the Midway trail, a popular paved path that runs from Chico to Durham. I ignored the sign saying no ebikes. The electric scooter rider also ignored the sign. The no motorized vehicles part of the sign applied to him as well.
As a non-ebike rider and walker, I understand not wanting people to whiz by me on a trail like this on a moped or scooter or motorcycle.
Like many ebikes, mine comes with different settings. On flat I have it in its lowest setting to get a better workout. I’m not a fast rider. Someone on a road bike passed me. Really! So, clearly, my speed on my ebike is not a threat to others.
Perhaps I’m the exception to the rule because I’m slow. But I don’t think so. I think the problem is that the powers that be put in the rules without understanding the dynamics of electric bikes.
I understand ones with throttles being banned from paved paths. They are more like mopeds than bikes.
But at the same time one has to consider the alternatives for people on two wheels. In my case this would have meant riding on a dangerous road with no shoulder where vehicles go 55-plus miles an hour. I’ll take a ticket for riding my ebike illegally over the threat of dying.
It seems like a speed limit on paved trails might be the better solution for safety for all and it would mean being more inclusive. I don’t know what that limit should be. I really don’t know who is going to enforce it. Enforcement of ebikes on these trails is probably not a thing. It’s like any rule, we are supposed to self-regulate, self-police.
Or maybe it’s time to get the rules changed; at least this particular one.
California has a housing shortage. That much I think most people agree with.
“By some estimates, California was 3.5-million housing units short of what we needed to accommodate a population of our size,” Hans Johnson with the non-partisan, nonprofit think tank Public Policy Institute of California, told CapRadio last year.
In 2022, Ed Mayer, executive director of Butte County’s Housing Authority, told the Chico Enterprise Record that the county needs between 6,000 and 15,000 units. That’s a massive range. One would think the county could narrow that number down a bit.
In large part the local shortage has to do with the 2018 Camp Fire destroying 12,600 units, many of which have not been rebuilt.
Building more housing would seem to be the answer. So, why then, am I against the Valley’s Edge project near Chico?
It’s the wrong project.
The developer’s website says, “There would be approximately 230 acres of land suitable for custom homes, 330 acres dedicated to single-family home builders, and 90 acres for residential cottages, patio homes, courtyard, and cluster housing. Within the Village Core, there would be room for approximately 10 acres of multi-family apartments as well.”
In all, 2,777 residential units are planned. It sounds like a lot of sprawl to me.
The land in total is 1,448 acres near Honey Run Road, Stilson Canyon Road and Skyway that would have to be annexed from Butte County to the city of Chico.
Bill Brouhard, 65, told the local paper he has been talking about this project since he was in his 40s.
It is unfathomable to me that in 2024 there is a plan on the books anywhere to build fake lakes. This project would do that. I live where there are man-made lakes. While I love walking by them, they come with a ton of environmental question marks.
I’m not convinced climate change impacts have been sufficiently studied to make such a massive development justifiable. I worry about fire, water and the overall environment.
The current construction I see on this side of town where I live and near where the project is proposed has not come with road improvements. Bruce Road is a nightmare. It was this way when I moved here three years ago and is only worse with more people using it from the apartments on Highway 32 and Meriam Park.
I also don’t trust the City Council members who have approved this project.
I will be voting no on Measures O and P, which are on the March 5 ballot. They have to do with a General Plan amendment for Valley’s Edge and the specific plan for the development.
Nevada has two elections, sort of, this week for who it wants to be president.
This is not sitting well with at least one of my friends. This is because her vote essentially won’t count.
While a recent Nevada law requires there be a primary election, the Nevada GOP is opting to have a caucus. The primary was Feb. 6. The caucus is Feb. 8 and only open to Republicans.
The problem is only Donald Trump and pastor Ryan Binkley will be caucused.
My friend feels cheated. She doesn’t want either of those candidates. She has turned in her primary ballot with her preferred choice. While it will be counted, it won’t count toward any delegates for that person.
This is because delegates will only be awarded to whomever wins the caucus. That means the primary is mute. It’s a waste of time, an exercise in futility.
Trump will get all of Nevada’s GOP delegates. This is a fact before a single ballot was/is counted.
(A candidate needs 1,215 delegates to win the nomination and move onto November.)
The other candidates we’ve all heard of—Haley, Pence, Scott and some others were on the GOP primary ballot. Biden and 12 others (not Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota) were on the Democratic primary ballot.
Prior to this year Nevada has had caucuses for both parties. It was the Nevada GOP that said candidates had to choose to be on the primary or caucus ballot. Write in votes were not allowed, but voters in the primary could check “none of these candidates” instead of selecting an individual. That “none of these candidates” got more votes than Haley.
Nevada’s GOP hasn’t done anything illegal.
Unethical? Underhanded? Deceptive? The answer is more likely yes when it comes to those accusations.
Here’s some info from the nonprofit National Constitution Center:
States choose the date and determine if the primary will be open or closed.
States decide which method of voting will be used, whether felons can vote, and whether voters must show identification at the polls.
State parties run caucuses, while state governments conduct primaries.
Political parties determine how delegates will be assigned in light of primary results.
Because of that last bullet point, the Nevada GOP, which is run by Trump allies, can essentially rig the system. Even Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo called what the state GOP is doing “unacceptable”.
While it was just like week that I learned of the Silver State’s chaos, the Associated Press at least as early as last September was reporting about the primary-caucus brouhaha.
In a Feb. 2 story, the AP wrote: “Talk to the people in Nevada: They will tell you the caucuses have been sealed up, bought and paid for,” Nikki Haley told reporters in New Hampshire, where she finished second to Trump in the Jan. 23 primary. ”That’s the Trump train rolling through that. But we’re going to focus on the states that are fair.”
According to the Associated Press, Michigan, Missouri and other states are all having primaries as well as caucuses. It might just be more clusters like Nevada. One state is too many to have voters unable to actually have their vote count for the person they want.
“Stop the steal” might be a phrase that should be revisited by the GOP for one of its own.
I’m not saying shenanigans don’t happen in both parties. Look at what Biden did. He wanted South Carolina to be the first official Democratic primary (Feb. 3) because that state helped propel him to the nomination four years ago.
One of the things I like most about the United States is our elections. Now I’m not so sure. I’m beginning to rethink what kind of country I really live in.
I realize this isn’t my greatest accomplishment, but it is what I achieved in January.
I participated in Dry January, a concept that has been around since 2012. I survived all 31 days plus the first of February without alcohol. I celebrated by opening a nice bottle of wine on Feb. 2.
Deschutes Black Butte is one of the few non-alcoholic dark beers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Wine. It’s what I missed last month.
I know there are non-alcoholic wines on the market, but they are not readily available in the stores I was shopping.
I did find a slew of non-alcoholic beers. I was trying them whenever I went out, which was more than usual last month because of my working vacation week in Tahoe. What surprised me the most is the greatest selection of NA—that’s how non-alcoholic drinks are referred to—beers was at the restaurant Barney’s in Paradise. The burger joint had five to choose from. I opted for the Lagunitas IPNA—even though it was February.
My favorite, though, was Deschutes Black Butte NA. I’m sure this has to do with my preference being dark beers. My friend, Darla, brought me a six to Tahoe for me. One day I hope to find a dark NA beer in Chico.
I chose to participate in Dry January for a variety of reasons. My friend, Joyce, had done so a year ago, which got me to seriously think about it. While I don’t drink a ton, I seem to drink every weekend. Could I even go 31 days? Then I wrote about all the options non-drinkers have for a story for the North Bay Business Journal which solidified my desire.
A variety of NA beer choices at Raley’s in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I feel lighter. Not like I weigh less, because I didn’t lose weight through this journey. More like I’m not being weighed down. I feel a bit healthier. I admit this alcohol-free month also coincided with a few healthier eating choices.
I was a pretty healthy eater prior to January, so nothing drastic changed. For those who know me, yes, I’m still eating French fries.
Chico’s Sierra Nevada brewery in December released its first NA beer. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
What I might do going forward is add NA beer into my regular repertoire. I don’t drink a ton of beer. Mostly it’s in the summer, on a warm day or with certain foods. They gave me the flavor of beer—which is what I wanted. They are still empty calories, but fewer of them. I could also find them at breweries, so I felt like I as participating in the fun.
Wine, well, I need to try some NA ones to see if they could be added to my regular beverage selection. I’m also interested in trying the NA liquors I wrote about in that NBBJ story.
I don’t know if I will do Dry January again. Maybe. Seems like a good way to start the year. Then there’s always Sober October.
Anyone who says you must do or see something before you die is setting herself to be second-guessed at the minimum, probably ridiculed and chastised, even slandered and libeled the way people are so vicious these days.
Mikalee Byerman is so confident in her recommendations that she recently released the second edition of 100 Things to Do in Reno Before You Die (Reedy Press, 2023).
I’m no expert on Reno, so I’m not going to judge whether she should have excluded one thing or included something else. I’m not sure even if I were a self-proclaimed expert on Reno, that it would matter. Books like this are subjective. Titles like this are attention grabbers.
That’s not to say the contents aren’t worth reading. They are. In fact, this would be an excellent resource for anyone in the Reno area. It ought to be in guest rooms.
I had fun reading it. I learned about places I had never heard of, and it had me shaking my head in agreement about some places that I would say are definitely worthy of seeing or doing.
The book’s chapters are: Food and Drink, Music and Entertainment, Sports and Recreation, Culture and History, Shopping and Fashion. She even has a segment on Activities by Season, and Suggested Itineraries.
While the bulk of the book focuses on Reno, Byerman also recommends a few things in Sparks, Carson City, Virginia City and the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Mendocino County was the first brewery in the world to use solar. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s not just what’s in the can that matters. For Anderson Valley Brewing Company it’s about being good stewards of the land.
The Mendocino County brewery could have stopped years ago when in 2005 it became the first brewery in the world to install solar. Instead, the craft brewery continues to be on the leading edge of sustainability.
Most recently the current operators changed the packaging to eliminate plastic.
“We moved all packaging to the most sustainable packaging we could. All beer is in cans now with cardboard exterior wraps that allowed us to eliminate plastic,” Kevin McGee, CEO and president of the company, said. “We had to develop the packaging because it didn’t exist. We had to invest in a new packaging equipment to get the cans into the boxes.”
While he knows there is a cost savings to get rid of bottles and plastic, McGee hasn’t crunched the numbers to know that dollar figure.
“It was something we did because we knew sustainability-wise it was smart to do,” McGee said.
The switch to cans from bottles means the number of trucks needed to ship product has been reduced by 60%, McGee said. Weight is the big difference.
In keeping with the company’s quest to have as little waste as possible end up in a landfill, the bottling line was upcycled by being sold to a local winery.
Plastic is no longer part of Anderson Valley’s packaging. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Beer making isn’t necessarily an environmentally friendly business. It takes a ton of energy and water.
The Brewers Association’s “Energy Usage, GHG Reduction, Efficiency and Land Management Manual” says, “Refrigeration generally creates the largest electrical load, while brewing consumes the largest amount of natural gas.”
The Brewers Association represents more than 5,400 craft brewers.
“Energy used in a brewery breaks down into two primary units. Thermal energy in the form of natural gas is used to generate hot water and steam, which is then used in brewing, packaging and general building heating. Electrical energy is used to power all equipment, with the largest user being refrigeration,” the report says. “Thermal sources average 70% of the energy consumed in the brewery; however, it usually only accounts for 30% of the actual energy cost. Based on this, efforts to reduce electrical energy should be given top priority when considering energy reduction opportunities, as they account for the largest opportunity.”
The trade group launched its sustainability subcommittee in 2013. One outcome was a guide focusing on energy, water, wastewater, carbon dioxide and solid waste.
The group in 2014 wanted to prove to craft breweries that change could affect their bottom line. In a pilot program that year “savings ranged from $35,000 to $235,000 annually for small to larger craft breweries.”
A couple enjoys a beer in the large garden at AVBC. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
AVBC keeps evolving
Anderson Valley Brewing Company (AVBC) knows it is leaving money on the table by continuing to operate a solar system that is nearly 20 years old.
That is why a $2 million project is on the drawing board. Exactly when the greenlight will be given to start construction remains a moving target. Plans were finalized in summer 2020, but then the world was shut down—including the Boonville brewery, and sales plummeted. It is still in a bit of a recovery mode.
When the new panels get installed, the solar production will go from powering 50% of the operations today to producing 110% of what the brewery needs, McGee said. He anticipates the excess will be sold to Sonoma Clean Power in Santa Rosa.
The arrays cover the brewhouse and a carport. Now the output is less than 400,000 kilowatt hours annually, with future panels forecast to deliver 861,000 kilowatt hours a year.
The plan calls for all of the more than 700 panels to be replaced, with an expansion to a neighboring building and elsewhere on the 30-acre parcel.
Once started, construction should take about three months. This includes building an on-site battery storage system.
“It will reduce our ongoing costs immediately,” McGee said. “It would pay for itself between eight and 10 years.”
Partnering with like-minded organizations is also a top priority. Coastal Ale, which was released this year, has 5% of its gross profits from packaged ales going to the Surfrider Foundation.
On its website the nonprofit says it is “dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches, for all people, through a powerful activist network.”
Anderson Valley is looking for other organizations to do the same thing.
A little history
McGee created a nanobrewery in his Healdsburg garage in 2007. Now his Healdsburg Beer Company is considered a sister brewery to Anderson Valley Brewing Company, which is owned by his father.
Michael McGee Sr. bought AVBC in 2019 from HMB Holdings. That group had purchased it from Ken Allen who founded Anderson Valley in 1987.
McGee, the CEO of Anderson, was employed by Santa Rosa’s Jackson Family Wines for six years where he was a business strategist and personal legal counsel to Jess Jackson. After Jackson’s death in 2011, McGee started a consulting firm that focused on fixing problems for businesses.
The goal with Anderson Valley Brewing is for it to be in the McGee family for multiple generations. For now it’s dad as owner, McGee as CEO, and his wife, Katee, as creative director.
Three ponds filter the wastewater at Anderson Valley Brewing Co. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The University of Vermont published a report a few years ago saying for every barrel of beer produced it took three to seven barrels of water to make it.
Anderson Valley draws its water from the 10 wells on its land. All of the gray wastewater is released back on the property to recharge the aquifer.
This is done by an on-site wastewater treatment plant that has three ponds behind the main buildings that are in different stages of purification.
“We have a fully outfitted lab that we use for quality control and operations for the brewery and use that to monitor the state of the ponds,” McGee said. “We have reporting requirements.”
Allen, the original owner and founder of AVBC, was ahead of his time with the solar and ponds.
In 2020, a nitrogen generator was installed to take nitrogen from the ambient air that is then used instead of carbon dioxide. While McGee didn’t say how much it cost, he said it paid for itself in eight months.
He said a good deal of CO2 used at the brewery had nothing to do with carbonization, but instead was used to move liquid through the pipes. That’s now done with nitrogen.
All of the brewing waste like spent grains and yeast go to a local farmer for livestock feed.
“We are trying to be as self-sustaining as we can,” McGee said in reference to all of the brewery’s environmental initiatives.