Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stimulus funds spread far, wide in Valley

Local projects, economy get a boost from federal money.

Published online on Monday, Jul. 20, 2009
By Sanford Nax / The Fresno Bee

The federal government's stimulus package is coming to the Valley -- and there is something for everyone.

From tax relief to retraining. From new solar panels on schools to refurbished airport taxiways. From traffic signals to freeway extensions. From new apartment complexes to renovated houses.

The money is starting to flow -- and is finding a home in the Valley.

Over the next two years, California is expected to receive about $85 billion of the $787 billion pledged nationally through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

How much comes to the Valley depends in part on how well local agencies and businesses compete for funds.

Some federal money already is being put to work in the Valley.

For example, the Fresno County Workforce Investment Board got $18 million in stimulus money, said Pam Lassetter, assistant director. The board is using most of it to help put 3,000 students in summer jobs, provide vocational training to former Elkhorn Correctional Facility youths and to teach adults who lost their jobs new skills in health care and other expanding industries.

In Hanford and Lindsay, two affordable-housing developments, delayed after their complicated tax-credit financing sources dried up, got the financing from the stimulus act -- more than $16 million combined.

One of the biggest transportation projects in the Valley -- the extension of Highway 180 from Temperance Avenue to Academy Avenue -- will start in the fall with help from nearly $18.5 million in stimulus money.

That project, which will provide dozens of construction jobs, originally was earmarked for 2011-12, but the state budget crisis would likely have delayed it, said Tony Boren, executive director of the Council of Fresno County Governments.

At least $58 million is earmarked for dozens of transportation-related projects in Fresno County. Those include new traffic signals along Maple Avenue in northeast Fresno, a $1 million roundabout at Dinuba and Buttonwillow avenues in Reedley, resurfacing parts of Blackstone Avenue in Fresno and an automated farebox system on Fresno Area Express.

Valley officials have their eyes on more than $1.1 billion in stimulus money, enough to fund 26 regional initiatives on the eight-county San Joaquin Valley Partnership's wish list.

They include widening parts of Highway 99 and other highway improvements; $108 million for high-speed and intercity rail projects; new railroad tracks and a shipping container yard at Port of Stockton; expanding telemedicine programs centered at the University of California at Merced; expanding broadband to rural communities; and the rehabilitation of a water pumping plant in Kern County.

"The Valley is in a good position to do well if they continue to work together like they have been doing," said Cynthia Bryant, director of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Task Force.

Boren said the construction projects are important because they ripple through the economy. The workers buy food from stores, eat at restaurants, buy vehicles from car dealers. "There is a real benefit," he said.

Stimulus money will be used to make houses and public offices more energy efficient. Paul Johnson, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, hopes it also can lead to more ambitious green projects in the Valley.

"These funds, if pursued and captured wisely, could help make the Valley a leader in alternative fuel," he said.

Grants for weatherizing houses can be leveraged with stimulus money to improve struggling neighborhoods -- and to provide jobs to contractors and small businesses at the same time, said Craig Scharton, director of the Downtown and Community Revitalization Department in Fresno.

The city has joined with three agencies and one business to buy, renovate and resell abandoned houses in the Lowell Jefferson area of downtown Fresno to low- and moderate-income families.

The goal is to stabilize neighborhoods and create construction jobs. Scharton said stimulus funds can be used in conjunction with other money to go beyond just buying houses.

"We want to concentrate some of the resources in areas where we can have a lasting, positive change in the neighborhood rather than dispersing it into the wind," Scharton said.

The reporter can be reached at snax@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6495.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Partner with Industry/Universities for EERE Grant Opportunities

Federal agency energy managers and stakeholders:

The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has numerous financial opportunities available for business, industry, and universities. Many of these opportunities are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and may allow Federal agencies to be included as potential sub-recipients (not primary recipients) of DOE grant funding. The language that guides these kinds of partnering arrangements is usually included in the eligibility language in each EERE solicitation. The link to EERE financial assistance solicitations and solicitation-related requests is:

Again, the best way for Federal agencies to take advantage of these opportunities is to partner with universities, private industry, or other eligible institutions which can then respond through the solicitation process

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

San Joaquin Valley Ready to Deliver Energy

The state wants 33% of its power need by 2020 to come from renewable sources.

Saturday, Mar. 21, 2009
By Sanford Nax / The Fresno Bee

The $787 billion federal stimulus package could help make the San Joaquin Valley a leader in alternative energy.

Millions of energy-related dollars are headed to California through a variety of government programs. At least one expert thinks it is a golden chance to create jobs in solar and other types of renewable energy, and to make the Valley more self-sufficient -- if it is done right.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Paul Johnson, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. "There is significant funding and the Valley is well-positioned to pursue it."

Millions of dollars will be available for everything from weatherizing low-income housing to developing alternative-energy programs.

The Valley is already in the running for solar and power projects that could bring more than 75 jobs, but the potential for more through the stimulus is strong, said Steve Geil, president of Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County.

"We are dealing with a company right now that wants to use cattle waste, another one that wants to do thermal that uses selenium-tainted water on the west side and there is a company we are meeting with that can take waste from Fresno and convert it to renewable energy" and organic fertilizer, Geil said.

Some consultants contend the Valley is one of the few places in the nation with all the elements crucial to developing sustainable alternative energy: land, water, agriculture, ample sun and a large metropolitan area.

Abundant sun is a catalyst for large-scale solar projects near Mendota and the Carrizo Plains. Tens of thousands of dairy cows generate huge potential for development of biomass facilities. And the Tehachapi Pass above the southern San Joaquin Valley is one of the largest producers of wind energy in the world.

Adding to the healthy mix is local brainpower: Fresno State already is a leader in water technology research and University of California at Merced is a "green" campus, both in construction and through its energy research institute, which has a heavy focus on solar energy.

The missing ingredient, apparently, has been money.

"There are a lot of projects queued up in the Valley that could happen in the next several years," said Mark Stout, director of renewable technology planning at solar developer Cleantech America Inc. "But the capital markets have gone sideways."

Not everything has come to a standstill -- perhaps due in part to the state's goal of having 33% of its power need come from renewable sources by 2020. San Francisco-based Cleantech plans a solar-power farm outside Mendota that is expected to generate five megawatts, enough electricity to power about 7,800 homes, to sell to Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Cleantech also has announced plans to build 80 megawatts of solar-power generation in the Valley by 2011.

Another solar company, Ausra, plans a 177-megawatt plant on the Carrizo Plains in southeastern San Luis Obispo County. PG&E has contracted to buy the electricity from that $550 million plant, scheduled to go online in 2011.

Tapping cows
Then there is EarthRenew, a Canada company that has opened a regional office in Fresno with five employees. It has a plant in British Columbia that this year will process about 70,000 tons of fresh raw manure into organic pellets for sale to farms, golf courses, soil reclamation businesses and others.

The system uses a gas-powered turbine that generates enough electricity for 4,000 homes and can be sold to the energy grid. The WasteRenew process "cooks" the manure, thus eliminating steroids, antibiotics and other undesirable material, and produces nutrient-rich fertilizer that is sold.

Chief executive officer and founder Christianne Carin was in Fresno recently to promote the business. EarthRenew is working on five permits in the nation, including two on feedlots or dairies in the San Joaquin Valley.

The company calls that program WasteRenew. It also has applications that replace burners in food processing and other industries, plus technology to desalinate saline ponds.

Carin was in Washington, D.C., in recent days, lobbying for dairy farmers and others to benefit from the technology. "We are trying to stimulate the stimulus package," she said during her visit to Fresno. "There is lots of money for research like this."

Stimulating the source
Some of the money for renewable energy projects could come from $338 million in grants that California gets from the stimulus package. Cities with populations over 35,000 and counties over 200,000 can use the grants to help develop programs.

The program was authorized in 2007, but never funded until the stimulus was approved. "It is really important because for the first time it allows local jurisdictions to develop programs for energy efficiency," said Wayne Waite, regional energy representative for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In addition, the stimulus package is increasing the amount of money devoted to weatherization projects statewide from $200 million to $5 billion. It is estimated that every $1 million expenditure creates up to 50 jobs, many of which are likely to be filled by former or retrained construction workers.

Officials in Kern County, for example, are training youths and others to become electricians skilled in maintaining solar panels.

Some also could learn to perform energy audits and make houses more energy efficient through weatherization upgrades. "Some areas are already collaborating," Nicole Parra, the former legislator who recently was named a regional development director by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, told community activists on Fresno's west side last week.

Clearing the way
Johnson, the executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, and others add a warning: rapid expansion here isn't without hurdles.

Geil, president of the economic development corporation in Fresno County, said green projects need to receive permits more quickly: "Most of the companies that come here are not prepared for all the hoops to jump through. It is harder and longer in California."

Rollie Smith, HUD's field director in Fresno, said Valley organizations must be organized to ensure they get as much money as they can -- and to make sure it stays here.

Community activist Amy Chubb said, "The recovery and reinvestment act is the last best chance to get the community moving again."

Johnson notes that the money must be spent quickly, which increases the risk of it being used ineffectively. "That's a challenge," he said. "It is like building and flying an airplane at the same time."

The reporter can be reached at snax@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6495.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Vilsack Announces Energy Audit Applications Now Being Accepted

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2009 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the department is accepting funding applications from eligible entities for grants to conduct energy audits under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

"For the first time ever, USDA will make grant funding available this year through the Rural Energy for America Program to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses obtain audits to identify ways to improve energy efficiency," Vilsack said. "The assistance provided by this program is in keeping with President Obama's energy conservation goals for our nation." The program is authorized in Section 9007 of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The audits are intended to help rural small businesses and agricultural producers determine where to make changes in their operations to enable them to reduce energy consumption. Audits are required for energy efficiency projects funded through REAP that exceed $50,000. States, tribal and local governments, land grant colleges or universities, other institutions of higher learning, and electric cooperatives and public power entities are eligible to receive funds to conduct the audits. Parties seeking audits from the grantees must pay 25 percent of audit costs.

Applications for grants must be completed and submitted on paper or electronically no later than June 9. For further details about eligibility rules and application procedures, see page 10533 of the March 11 Federal Register, http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/.

SDA Rural Development intends to publish and seek public comment on a proposed regulation for the REAP program later this year.

USDA Rural Development's mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents. Rural Development fosters growth in homeownership, finances business development, and supports the creation of critical community and technology infrastructure. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development's web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov .
from the USDA website. Original post can be found at: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal?contentidonly=true&contentid=2009/03/0055.xml

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

CEC: California Energy Activities Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

On February 17, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) into law. The comprehensive economic stimulus legislation provides nearly $800 billion in new spending for a variety of programs and activities designed to spur economic development and job growth. Moreover, the economic stimulus bill substantially increases funding for existing and new energy programs and initiatives.
ARRA contains over $37 billion in federal funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy and a host of other clean energy initiatives. These initiatives are also supported with about $20 billion in energy-related tax credits, energy bonds and other favorable tax incentives. New funding and energy-related tax credits present California and the California Energy Commission and its stakeholders and citizens with an opportunity to lay the foundation for economic recovery and a more secure and cleaner energy future.
With the signing of ARRA, the Energy Commission is expected to receive nearly $300 million in federal funding for the State Energy Program (SEP) and Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Programs (EECBG). Funds from these two programs will support efforts to promote conservation, increase energy efficiency and expand renewable energy in California.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working on guidelines for the distribution and use of the SEP and EECBG funds. Release of the federal guidelines is imminent, and we are very interested in working with DOE, state agencies, and our energy stakeholders to ensure we get the money out quickly to stimulate economic activity and create the foundation for long-term sustainable growth.
The Energy Commission has launched a new website page devoted to ARRA activities at:http://www.energy.ca.gov/recovery/
The site provides timely information about economic and energy stimulus activities and how you can stay informed and participate in upcoming workshops. I encourage you to visit the site and invite you to participate in future stakeholder meetings and workshops that will be announced soon.
Thank you.
Melissa Jones
Executive Director
California Energy Commission
(If link above doesn't work, please copy entire link into your web browser's URL)