In the Pipeline: Pushing alternative power at 93

"My father worked on the takeoff mechanism for the Wright brothers back in 1906. He was a blacksmith and when Wilbur Wright came into the shop he got right to it."

Philip Hodgetts, 93, is at least as interesting as his dad.

We're sitting in his quiet kitchen just off Edinger Avenue near Newland Street and he is explaining a few things to me. Like how his father also served in the honor guard for President William Taft, in addition to helping the famous flying brothers. Which becomes even more interesting when one learns that Hodgetts himself was a design engineer on the space shuttle Columbia. Think of that. Think of the flight history that spans between this father and son.

But that's not why I'm here. Hodgetts is a man on a mission; a passionate alternative energy advocate who walks it like he talks it. He generates enough power through the solar panels on his roof that the energy company actually sends him a check every month for the amount he kicks back into the grid.

All of his appliances are run this way and he is so committed to teaching this country how to wean itself off of oil that he's written a book. It is called Solutions for Obtaining a Healthier Environment and a Wealthier Nation and with a little luck it will be published soon. He's been the president of the Electric Vehicle Assn. of Southern California as well as the President of the American Hydrogen Assn. among many other posts having to do with alternative fuel.

He took me through his book, which lays out in very simple order the steps that he believes will save our country from its oil dependency. He is tired of outsourcing and has deep faith in things like wind, water, sunshine, moonshine and harnessing the power of waste. He points to Brazil as an example of a country that has learned to harness the power of other elements including alcohol.

I first became aware of Mr. Hodgetts recently when I read his memoir, "Stirring Among the Playthings." In it, he detail's his fascinating life that began in Colorado before wending its way west. I learned about his military service, his family and of course his interest in alternative energy.

At 93, Hodgetts is still a sharp as a tack and deeply committed to creating awareness about things that he feels are very important. I think once he gets his new book published he will turn a lot of heads with his thinking.

Agree or disagree, he is a vibrant, deep thinker that cares a great deal for his country and is looking to help. For now however, I know he'd love you to see the book about his life. He gave me several signed copies so that I could make them available. They are just $7 plus shipping and if you're interested please send me an email.

Something I also became aware of when I visited Mr. Hodgetts. He is on the advisory board for the Air Quality Management District, which is currently trying to ban bonfires in Southern California.

Naturally I was curious about his opinion and he said this, "The AQMD does good work but in this case it doesn't make any sense. Those fire rings aren't really hurting anything. Sometimes they just go after the wrong things and I think this is one of those times. Those fires barely generate anything. There are much worse things to look into."

Speaking of the fire pits, here's an update: The AQMD has issued some preliminary findings. Our mayor (and actual scientist) Connie Boardman explained to me, after reviewing this and other separate studies, that the findings essentially prove that "One of our fire rings makes as much particulate matter as charbroiling four cheeseburgers."

That's it, folks.

Yet the AQMD is out there spinning as hard as they can in a desperate measure to find the science to support their ban efforts. Remember, plans for the ban came first. Their backward science now has them looking for results to support it.

Everyone knows wood-burning fires release dangerous things. So should every single campfire be banned forever? Of course not. Because fire rings in Huntington Beach, in almost all cases, are set far from homes. Could we move the others? Sure. Would that satisfy AQMD? Clearly not.

Remember, were it not for our fighting them, they would have enacted this ban already, with zero testing. That gives you a sense of how they are approaching this.

As well, there is no new meeting date given yet for the vote. They only need to give the public three days notice and my hunch is they will try to slip this in as quietly as possible. Lack of reasonable notification seems the pattern with AQMD on this issue so if you would like to be notified immediately when the word comes down, send me your email and I will put you on my list. You'll then know the moment this meeting is announced so that, if you'd like, you can be there in person to state your case before the vote.

It starts with bonfires. Next it might be fireplaces in your home and backyard barbecue grills. That's why this is so important. We're not just fighting for bonfires but for other very basic freedoms that do little to no harm, while creating lots of affordable enjoyment. You can help make a difference. Call the AQMD. Let them know what you think: (909) 396-2000.

And again, write to me if you'd like to be included on an alert list for the final vote meeting date in Diamond Bar.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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