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This week on Sea Change Radio, we dig into the archives and hear first from Sachu Constantine, the Executive Director of Vote Solar, a policy advocacy organization committed to expanding access to affordable solar energy. Constantine provides an update on net metering legislation in California, gives us a glimpse into what’s happening in the community solar space, and looks at hurdles to solar that the Trump Administration mounted. Then, we speak with Oli Mittermeier, the CEO and Co-founder of CIT Clinics to get a glimpse of his company’s innovative approach to ketamine treatment for depression, bipolar, and PTSD.
Narrator – This week on Sea Change Radio, we dig into the archives and hear first from Sachu Constantine, the Executive Director of Vote Solar, a policy advocacy organization committed to expanding access to affordable solar energy. Constantine provides an update on net metering legislation in California, gives us a glimpse into what’s happening in the community solar space, and looks at hurdles to solar that the Trump Administration mounted. Then, we speak with Oli Mittermeier, the CEO and Co-founder of CIT Clinics to get a glimpse of his company’s innovative approach to ketamine treatment for depression, bipolar, and PTSD.
Alex Wise (AW) – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by Sachu Constantine. He is the executive director of vote Solar, Sachu Constantine. Sachu, welcome to Sea Change Radio.
Sachu Constantine (SC) – Thanks, Alex.
SC – Great to be with you.
AW – So we’ve had your predecessor on Adam Browning several times talking about the work that Vote Solar does. But now that you’ve taken over as Executive Director, why don’t you remind our listeners the mission of your organization?
SC – Thanks for the opportunity to come on. Adam has been a mentor and a real leader in our space and I’m, I’m really honored to be sitting in this seat at Vote Solar. Vote Solar is a 20-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization.
SC – We have worked at the state level to make solar a mainstream energy choice to really improve. The value proposition for customers, for communities, for the country around solar, and quite frankly, we’ve been incredibly successful at that under Adam’s leadership and now under my transition leadership, we are making solar unaffordable. Ubiquitous choice that customers and utilities and communities can all make, and that has been our goal. All along, climate change has been a north star. We are expanding our mission to talk about energy choices, energy burden and energy justice, and I think it’s really important to our final vision, which is a strong, robust, resilient energy economy powered by renewables like solar and wind that is available and useful and helpful to everyone in the country.
AW – And on a day-to-day basis, what pies are you getting your fingers dipped into in in terms of policymaking?
SC – Yeah, that’s a great question. Vote Solar’s bread and butter has always been working at the state level, working at Public Utilities Commissions (PUCs). Those commissions which decide how utilities get to run, get to earn profit, get to deploy resources. So we act as expert witnesses in proceedings around net metering or integrated resource planning or portfolio planning or transmission planning at those state levels we also are actively involved with legislative campaigns around clean energy bills, of course, state legislatures have a big impact. We’ve seen it recently in Illinois, which I hope we can talk about, and certainly in California with legislative leadership and regulatory leadership, that’s where Vote Solar operates. We maintain a staff of real experts in the important fields. On energy and rates and now, as we said, energy, justice and justice partnerships. These are our skill sets and we deploy them where decisions are being made at the state and regional level.
AW – So you mentioned energy justice and that’s something that we’ve hit upon in the past, but I’d like to dig more into it. We think about 1/3 of the country rents their homes and for the first decade plus of the solar boom. Those renters were largely left out of the equation. What’s changed for those renters in in the last five years?
SC – Sure, and you’re speaking to a big problem, a historical problem. It’s an agency problem. Who gets to decide about their energy choices? Renters don’t often have that choice if you live in a multi-family building or if your business is in a multi-tenant mall right, you don’t have the agency to to choose solar, let alone the financial resources. So several things have changed and they’ve been part of the discussion from the get go from let’s let’s take 2007 as a starting point. When the California Solar Initiative started, we had elements in that incentive program for multifamily buildings. We had specific carve outs for low income. Or income qualified residential multifamily buildings, but it was a very small portion of it and we were working out how did you provide this value to them? So one thing that’s happened is that those early efforts have become more and more sophisticated. We do have more virtual net metering available to renters. We do have programs that are designed specifically to get landlords to think about the value proposition of solar, to put solar on their buildings or subscribe to communities. Solar, so that the renters living in those buildings can still benefit from the solar economy. So that’s that’s one thing that’s happening. That’s kind of a natural progression. We need to do more of that. We need to see more community solar, and in fact, the Inflation Reduction Act that just passed has several provisions that will help advance community solar. Market community solar is the idea that OK, I can’t put solar on my roof, but I can have solar in my community or somewhere in in the surrounding grid. I can have a solar field and individuals can subscribe to the output of that solar field, so it’s like they’re having a virtual solar plant on their home. It just happens to be in a field somewhere on a school, on a government building, and they can get good value out of that. We’ve seen attempts to do that in many, many states, California, Colorado. Add solar gardens. Florida has a program for that through FPL and Duke, we’ve seen community solar in many, many other states, so that’s one thing that’s going to help renters and that’s really important. But I want to differentiate that idea, which is a justice question, from this new centering on energy justice that I mentioned. You mentioned that 1/3 of people in the country are renters. Well, a huge percentage of the country. As you know, from 10% to as many as 40% in regions also are people who face an energy burden, an energy burden where a significant portion of their income is spent on energy and utilities. They have trouble paying their bills. They’re at risk for cut offs. They are the ones who are receiving often the worst service or maybe the first to lose power in a storm or an outage or other grid event so that. Energy burden and energy vulnerability, the injustice of the system that we have built so far falls on them, so we’re centering on them. Meeting their needs will actually help us meet the needs of the larger grid it is also true that many of those same communities, low-income communities, rental housing districts within cities or poorer agricultural communities. They are the ones that suffer the most from fossil fueled climate change. They are the ones who face the first burdens, the first impacts, and so we want to make sure that those communities, their needs are centered. And I will tell you, from our point of view, this is both a justice question. This is the right thing to do, but it’s also. So been incredibly powerful for us in building political coalitions at in places like Illinois where we just passed monumental pivotal climate change policy with the climate and Equitable JOBS Act. In Illinois, before the Inflation Reduction Act, it was the biggest thing going in the country. It’s still really important, but it passed because of a coalition with energy partners and the strength of that coalition is really important as we negotiate towards our North Star of a clean, resilient world powered 100% by clean energy.
AW – So, in terms of defining community solar, would somebody who checks the box from their utility, maybe paying a little bit more for PG&E in San Francisco, let’s say, and they’re getting solar from PG needs grid, although they don’t have rooftop solar. Would they be considered part of community solar when we’re divvying up that pie or not?
SC – Yes, absolutely. That is a that is a form of community solar. That is, you know, they had these deep green and really deep green options for, for utility supply. And you’re right, they often came at a premium. Well, that’s not what we want. Because as an individual solar owner and I have solar on my roof, I’m actually saving money. And there’s no reason why a renter should be forced to pay a premium for this very low cost source of energy. So again what we’re seeing is that these community solar programs and you described one that was that was prevalent certainly for a while, they’re evolving into better deals where you can, you can sign up for a community solar program, get that offset against your energy bill, and it should be actually saving you money. Not at a premium, because solar is in fact, the lowest cost energy resource out there now we know there are, there are transmission and distribution system costs and those all need to be accounted for. But really, what we want to see community solar evolved to is where if you can’t put solar on your roof, or if you can’t afford all of those upfront costs, you can still subscribe to a clean energy solar community solar program and get your energy in the same way that I as an individual solar owner get to that. That’s the goal and we are seeing programs like that. Develop, there will be an array. This is this is not a one-size-fits-all. There going to be many different iterations of this somewhere you have huge solar plants that are what we would traditionally think of as a utility solar plant and a portion of that is subscribed to these kinds of individual customer programs.
AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to the Executive Director of Vote Solar, Sach Constantine. So Sachu, maybe you can highlight how policy makes such a difference when we’re talking about penetration rates of solar. We did a piece, we had Tim Dickinson, the journalist from Rolling Stone who did a piece on Florida and their laws that were prohibiting the panels from being leased. You had to buy them, which made it very expensive upfront costs. So the Sunshine State, Florida, which I think had the second best solar profile in the country was like right in the middle of the pack in terms of penetration rates. I think it’s been shifted since we did that piece several years ago. But maybe you can kind of give us a rundown of how important policy impacts the work that you’re trying to do in in trying to make solar more ubiquitous.
SC – Sure, and you know the Sunshine State that the great irony of that is never, never lost on me. It always fascinates me that the state of Florida has been so difficult to get solar in place, and it does highlight what affect policy can have, very often with a technology like this startup phase technology 20 years ago. Policy is the push or the seed that helps this new startup grow and let’s you know, quick history lesson. Every mass energy market has started with policy supports. We have decided we’ve made a policy to lay pipelines, to lay transmission lines across the country. We decided to do that when we when we started to electrify homes. And just a a quick note, some of the first electrified homes in this country were built as. Income subsidized housing. They were built as public housing, where we incorporated some of these modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity. That quickly became a mass general market phenomenon.
AW – And that’s mandated in a lot of places now, right?
SC – That is correct. We’re seeing, we’re seeing now once again that if you build public housing, some of these best, most modern practices are being required and in fact the the California Building Code is now really pushing us towards a solar ready state where all new construction has to have solar on it. Those kinds of policy supports, those pushes are really important for an early phase disruptive technology like solar, but it’s also important that to acknowledge that policy can be a real barrier. When you have protective policies in place that protect a utility monopoly, and this new technology is threatening that monopoly, we need to address those barriers. We need to get those barriers out of the way to a reasonable extent. Of course, the utilities play an important role, and they need to they need to be protected in that role. But they shouldn’t be able to force a customer to buy that panel just to be connected to the grid. They shouldn’t be able to force punitive charges onto customers just because they want to choose solar as their energy choice. So to the extent that policy can can help, that’s great and we want to see incentive programs, good, good net metering policy. We want to see interconnection policies, we want to see industrial support for solar and all of the related technologies, including storage and wind, and we also want to get rid of those policies which allow you to deflate the demand for solar to much broader, much more sophisticated policy interaction across all of these fields, permitting interconnection compensation rates, building codes. And as you’ve seen recently, of course, it even matters what our import export policies are. Those can have a profound effect as well.
AW – So there are still homeowner’s associations that will prohibit the use of rooftop solar? That seems pretty insane.
SC – I think insane is the right word. It’s certainly an overstep on the part of those HOAs.
AW – And is it legal?
SC – In court, they’re losing. We see them losing. It is, it may or may not be, quote legal, but it is certainly unjust.
AW -So Sachu, what are some of the other barriers to entry for most rooftop solar potential owners or users?
SC – We need to streamline permitting. We need to streamline the decision to go solar. I just want just as an example, in other countries in Australia and Germany and Japan, industrialized countries, high wages, pretty high property values, they’re installing solar at 1/2 to 1/3 the cost that we’re installing, so we need to simplify in order to bring the total cost down. That is absolute and we can do that. We can do that through better permitting processes, better customer acquisition and better interconnection policies, but we will always run up against the issue that. When you buy a solar panel and you buy all the equipment that goes with that solar panel, including, including a battery. You are buying 25 years of energy. You’re putting all the money down right now. If you’re buying it, you’re putting the money down now for 25 years of energy, a stream of payments that we would normally spread out over 25 years. That in and of itself is a difficult. So we’ve had many tools to help with that. We’ve had incentive programs and they’ve worked, they’ve they’ve brought the cost of solar down. They’ve really made it acceptable in many, in many ways given the stamp of the government to it as a safe, well performing technology. The industry has done a lot to improve their efficiency. All that’s great, but things like the ITC, the 30% tax rebate that you can get for buying that energy forward right now. It helps the country, helps our clean energy goals. So you’re getting a reduction in the first cost and it’s simple. You buy the solar or you get that 30% ITC that is a huge part of making this more accessible. Now still we’re going to have people who don’t have access to the financial to the capital to put the money down, who don’t have good credit ratings, who have many other burdens that they need to pay for. We need to figure out ways to finance that so we are seeing green banks and programs directed at low income communities, investment community investment funds coming out of the IRA and other places. That are going to help with those first costs because that’s the hard thing. That’s why leasing and other financing options that the industry has put forward and try to develop. That’s why they’re so important, these solutions are there in front of us, we just have to decide to make them. It is a hard decision. You’re buying an asset that’s going to be on your home or certainly you know in your set of assets for 20 to 25 years. And I think we need to acknowledge that by simplifying wherever we can, making it as clear as we can what the value proposition will be and really sticking to that, you know, we can’t go around changing the value proposition willy nilly.
AW – He’s the Executive Director of Vote Solar. People can go to votesolar.org to learn more and support the efforts of his organization. Sachu Constantine, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.
SC – Thank you, Alex. Great to be with you.
18:49 (Music break)
19:20 Alex Wise – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by Oli Mittermeier. He is the CEO and Co-founder of CIT Clinics that stands for combination infusion therapy. Oli, welcome to Sea Change Radio.
Oli Mittermeier Thank you Alex. Great to be here.
Alex Wise You specialize in ketamine therapy treatment and I wanted to learn a little bit more about that. Explain a little bit of the history of it and where it is now and then what you see is the future for this treatment.
Oli Mittermeier Yeah, so Ketamine is an old drug. It’s been around since the 60s. Was used extensively by soldiers in Vietnam. It’s an analgesic, meaning it takes away pain. It doesn’t affect core brainstem functions, which is what makes it unique. So you can give someone a ton of ketamine. They will continue. Breathing their blood pressure will change slightly, but it’s super safe. Right so then, in the early 2000s, frankly just by sheer coincidence, some folks started realizing that Ketamine seemed to have a really positive effect on certain patients that were coming to the emergency room and struggling with suicidal ideations you know? So they had probably injured themselves. Had some kind of a you know trauma and they were given ketamine to take away the pain to perform whatever procedures. And then they found that those patients that had received Academy and a huge percentage of them reported a dramatic reduction or even cessation of suicidal ideations for days. You know, after ketamine, so some folks at the Yale School of Medicine said, well, Gee, we there’s clearly something going on here with ketamine. And mental health. Let’s explore this and so they designed some studies and they would give patients a sub anesthetic dose of ketamine. So usually when you go into the OR and you’re getting ketamine you’re given a dose that has you pass through this what we call sort of the psychedelic window really, really quickly. Right, so you feel kind of funny for a little bit, a little loopy, and then you’re out. So we keep patients in that window so they’re conscious. They’re awake, they know what’s happening, but they’re having all of these amazing effects from the Academy, and so their pain is reduced. They feel this sense of wholeness and and you know, connection. So classic psychedelic experiences, and so the folks at Yale. Study, then they realized that even after one single dose of a sub anesthetic, dose or treatment of cat. I mean around 63% of study participants reported feeling dramatically better in terms of their depression. Their anxiety just sort of their general mood, and so that started us. You know? I mean to think about that was those, you know, 20 plus years ago. So here we are now doing this routinely. On a daily basis, giving patients of all ages all walks of life you know our youngest patients are 15. Our oldest are in their late 70s. Many of them come in saying I’ve tried everything, you know I’ve been on antidepressants my entire life. SSRI’s, benzos, anxiolytics, all kinds of meds and nothing is working and then you throw COVID into the mix and you have this massive spike of humans that are just really struggling and they don’t know where to go and so that’s where we come into the picture with some pretty novel approaches.
Alex Wise And why don’t you run through some of the disorders, illnesses, etc. That ketamine has proven to be efficacious.
Oli Mittermeier Everyone that comes into our clinic is struggling with both mental pain as well as physical pain. Like when was the last time you met someone who was deeply depressed but felt physically amazing? Doesn’t happen or someone who was struggling with you know chronic physical pain but said oh, other than that, I’m great, I’m you know, I feel mentally. Just on top of my game. And so we realized early on that really what we’re dealing with here is a complex series of, you know, when we talk about depression or anxiety or PTSD, you’re talking about a complex series of struggles that people are having that then manifest behaviorally, right? So you’re feeling really shut down. You feel lethargic, you feel antisocial, and you’re in chronic emotional and physical pain, so enter combination infusion therapy, which is something that we developed where we said, well, let’s treat brain chemistry with ketamine. Let’s treat a body chemistry with high doses of vitamin C and various vitamin B complexes. Compounds like glutathione. And sometimes even add and then let’s wrap that whole in clinic physical treatment with a really hands on compassionate, engaging behavioral program. Meaning you’ve got to help people shift and do things differently so that they begin to acquire. The behaviors that they need to feel well over the long run. And that’s what you do for patients.
Alex Wise You’re not a physician, but your background is then the mindfulness space. Why don’t you kind of explain what your role is for a patient? Walk us through what it might be like for a new patient to work with you.
Oli Mittermeier Yeah, so my two Co-founders – Adam Tible and Mark Danforth – they started doing this very early on. We’re talking 6 to 8 years ago and back then the focus was very what I would call biomedical, meaning the studies showed that if you give patients a certain amount of ketamine. Patients that are struggling with depression or anxiety, a significant percentage of them begin to feel better, especially if you do a series of ketamine infusions. Now when I entered the picture and started working with them, I actually had just come off of my own experience as a patient struggling with depression and anxiety as well and it was pretty bad for a period of time and I noticed that when I went in for treatments at this clinic again, it was very clinical. You know there’s a lot of fluorescent lights. There were beeping machines there. Or if I almost felt like I was in a dentist office. And so when I conveyed that to Mark and Adam, I said hey you guys, if we’re going to do this the way to do this properly is you have to really honor the fact that this is psychedelic medicine. So this, yes, there’s a certain neurochemical effect that the ketamine activates. But equally important to this whole process is. The environment it’s set in setting. How do you hold patients? How do you guide them through this? Process and in that sense I’ve discovered you know, being a long time mindfulness practitioner and even teacher the dissociative aspects of ketamine are almost like mindfulness in a bottle. And so what I mean with that is you can pretty reliably guide someone who’s a novice. Let’s say in the mindfulness space. You can guide them through an experience while they’re on ketamine, and you can point certain things out to them that help them feel like really get from the inside out that I’m not my thoughts, I’m not my emotions, I’m not my sensations. There’s me that is untouched by all of that. However, I identify myself the voice in my head. My consciousness is much bigger than that, and the reason that’s so profound is when you’re struggling with depression or anxiety really. What’s going on is every time you think something or feel something your mind attaches to it. And then down the rabbit hole you go right, it activates more sad thoughts. Those sad thoughts in turn have a physiological effect on you, you know, sort of a depressive sensory experience, and that in turn just validates what your mind is thinking, which is, oh, this is hopeless. I’m depressed. I’m never going to get out of it. And around the loop. Go soak it. I mean especially the way we do it when we guide patients in the clinic. Through this process, a big part of the guiding has to do with helping them see and notice first-hand the vastness of the space that exists between their consciousness and then these sad thoughts or these. These depressive sensations that they have in their body, and that first-hand experience is magical. That’s the beginning of the healing journey.
Alex Wise He’s the CEO and Co-founder of CIT clinics, Oli Mittermeier. Oli, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.
Oli Mittermeier My pleasure, thanks for being interested in what we do.
28:17 Narrator – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis, and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Cadillac Jones, Jonathan Edwards and Milk & Sugar. To read a transcript of this show, go to SeaChangeRadio.com stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast on our site or visit our archives to hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gavin Newsom, Stewart Brand and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.