Thursday, September 30, 2010

Superfund list grows by seven

Add New York's Newtown Creek, Michigan's Ten Mile Drain and a particularly polluted Florida dry cleaner to the list of national superfund sites.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tossed those and four others onto its National Priorities List, a collection of the country's nastiest real estate that poses a risk to human health and the environment. Not good, but cleanup means work.

The list's newcomers aren't that special. There are currently 1,275 others in the federal program, which investigates and strives to rid sites of pollutants. The EPA said to date 345 sites have been removed from the list.

These aren't your run-of-the-mill backyard meth trailers or even a fuel-saturated aging gas station. These messes are big, complicated and troublesome to remediate.

The ultimate superfund site is the Hanford nuclear reservation in southeast Washington state, a massive piece of tumbleweed-choked desert that hides extensive plumes of underground radioactive and chemical contamination flowing slowly and determinedly toward the nearby banks of the mighty Columbia River. It's ringed by the cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco, upriver from the the sprawling metropolis surrounding Portland, Ore.

John Stang, a reporter I worked with for about seven years at the Tri-City Herald in Kennewick and an expert on Hanford's buried radioactive glop, says even after billions of dollars dumped into its cleanup (a sum that rivals the Alaska state budget each year), it's still got issues.

Lots of them. Here's how Stang describes "The Area," as it is known, in a piece for the "During much of Hanford's Cold War days of producing plutonium, about 450 billions gallons of non-radioactive and slightly radioactive fluids -- about 125 different contaminants --- were dumped directly into the ground." But government-funded teams headed by the best the world has to offer are making progress.

Still, strontium 90 is nothing I'd like to swim around in, or quaff if it got into the Columbia, which supplies drinking water to millions.

The truth is superfund sites are no joke. They're complex, difficult and controversial. But dealing with them is a good thing and an opportunity to provide green jobs. Often, they're not the most glorious. Yet they're important and often highly technical. Ken Strickland, a childhood friend from Anchorage, has done quite well for himself specializing in site cleanup and restoration in Canada. He takes his job as a steward for a cleaner planet seriously.

Here's a rundown on the latest superfund arrivals. They will need people like Strickland.

  • The Black River flows through Jefferson County, N.Y. and empties into Lake Ontario. Industry has dumped its leftovers into its waters since the 1890s and it now boasts two active paper mills, a machine shop, the Carthage/West Carthage sewage treatment plant and a hydroelectric power plant. The EPA says river sediment is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, dioxins and other chemicals. PCBs are considered probable human carcinogens and are linked to such pleasant things as as low birth weight, thyroid disease and learning, memory and immune system disorders. Cleaning this one won't be simple. Dredging, one of the remedies for relieving waterways of their placer gold deposits, is one way but destroys habitat for generations.
  • Newtown Creek in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y. offers a fascinating history of the birth of an industrialized nation. Unfortunately it's also one that left its dirty fingers all over the Newtown's banks. The EPA says that by the 1850s, Newtown Creek and the surrounding area had become one of the largest industrial centers in New York City and by 1870 more than 50 refineries ringed its banks. Early last century, Newtown served as one of the key industrial arteries in New York City. Suffice to say that anything nasty in manufacturing has been there and it's highly polluted. Cleanup will certainly not be simple, but recognition of the problem represents a huge step for cleaning up the Big Apple's waterways.
  • General Dynamics Longwood in Longwood, Fla. General covers about 10 acres. The corporation and its predecessors manufactured circuit boards on the property until the 1980s, cleaning them with a vapor degreaser containing trichloroethene. The EPA says the chemical was stored in 55-gallon drums and in an above-ground storage tank on the eastern portion of the property. General Dynamics Corporation occupied the site from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s. Contaminants in ground water include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and silver.
  • Sanford Dry Cleaners on South Palmetto Avenue in Sanford, Florida would appear the tamest of the bunch. It's made up of two adjoining parcels of about an acre and sits in the historic section of downtown Sanford. But it's been around since the 1940s, and the site is rife with contaminants. EPA says tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene and dichloroethene were found in shallow and deep ground water samples in concentrations above the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act Maximum Contaminant Levels. Not pretty.
  • The 29-acre abandoned Smokey Mountain Smelters facility in Knox County, Tenn. operated from 1922 to 1979 primarily producing agricultural chemicals. The EPA says that in 1979, Smokey Mountain Smelters was established and operated as a secondary aluminum smelter, a process that involved the melting aluminum scrap waste and casting ingots. Currently, the site has arsenic- and PCB-laced soil and groundwater and has massive piles of waste that contain contain extremely corrosive water-soluble salts containing aluminum nitride, sodium and potassium chlorides and heavy metals. Homes are as close as 200 feet away.
  • Ten Mile Drain in St. Clair Shores, Mich. consists of concrete storm sewer pipes and surrounding soil, which are heavily contaminated with PCBs. Those PCBs have migrated into four canals where the storm sewer discharges and in Lake St. Clair. The EPA says a source is not known.
  • Vienna Wells in Vienna, Mo. includes three contaminated public drinking water wells. The EPA says the suspected source of tetrachloroethylene is the former Langenberg Hat Factory, which operated from 1952 until 1996. A decade of monitoring has shown increased contamination in the wells, which provide the main source of drinking water for about 625 people.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So Cal Could Becomes Solar Mecca

California energy officials blessed the fifth and sixth solar power projects in the desert of Southern California, which could make it the sunniest spot in the country for the emerging electricity source.

Eventually, the deserts of Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties could produce enough solar power for more than 3 million homes, according to this recent story in the New York Times.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger embraced the approval of the Genesis and Imperial Valley projects on federal Bureau of Land Management land in Riverside and Imperial counties respectively. If financed and built, they will combine to generate about 2,000 construction and 200 operational jobs.

“Today’s action solidly cements California as the national leader of solar power development,” he said in a statement. "I applaud the California Energy Commission’s decision to approve the construction of these solar projects that will increase our state’s renewable power, create jobs and boost our economy. I look forward to seeing these projects fully built and powering thousands of California homes with clean electricity.”

The two projects bring to six the number of desert-area solar developments approved by the California Energy Commission. Three more await approval before Dec. 31 to qualify for federal stimulus funds.

In addition to the solar thermal projects, there are more than a dozen other large solar photovoltaic and wind projects seeking permits to break ground in California this year, the governor's office said. In contrast to this year, 67 megawatts of utility scale solar were added in 2009 nationwide, and only 34 megwatts in 2008.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New York Times notes UC Merced study

A research project at UC Merced received mention in a New York Times story about tracking clouds to predict solar-power potential.
The article notes UC Merced's stimulus-funded plan to use sensors to study cloud cover, water vapor and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What's particularly impressive is that the San Joaquin Valley campus gets mentioned alongside the prestigious Sandia National Laboratories.
Check it out here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Environmental justice movement gets push from White House

Environmental justice.

The term sounds great. The concept, however, has a long way to go.

While poor areas get the brunt of a long list of environmental hazards and toxic sites, bad stuff can be buried or swirling in the air or water in any ZIP code. Progress has a way of getting things done and dealing with consequences later.

But Obama's taken up the call.

This week, Lisa P. Jackson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resurrected the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.

Big deal, right? Perhaps not. But it's something and at least a positive move by the Obama administration to push for federal protection from environmental and health hazards for everyone. The language of a press release reminds me of talk in the living room political gatherings I grew up with in Alaska.

I can hear my activist parents, Willie and Mary Ratcliff, publishers of the San Francisco Bayview, saying the same thing 30 years ago.

"Pollution like dirty air and contaminated water can have significant economic impacts on overburdened and low-income communities, driving away investment in new development and new jobs and exposing residents to potentially costly health threats." I was momentarily taken back in time by the words.

My activist parents continue to fight the battle they began as teenagers in the 1950s, my mother at Oberlin, my father as a black concrete contractor in California and up the coast to the Last Frontier. The best way to describe their message over the years I sum up by quoting Jesse Jackson's jobs, peace and freedom call for justice.

Environmental justice is a huge part of this, and it's effects can be seen in any poor community across the globe. Immigrant entry points in big cities are overlooked as are rural areas. Got something toxic? Give it to the poor folks under the auspices of jobs.

Jobs never materialize but the toxics remain.

I generalize, but dig a little and the examples are there.

The EPA's newfound call for environmental justice is supposed to "guide, support and enhance federal environmental justice and community-based activities." Officials say the effort will help federal agencies identify projects "where federal collaboration can support the development of healthy and sustainable communities."

Who knows if it will mean anything beyond more high- and low-level bureaucratic meetings? I'm optimistic. Just talking about it raises the political capital of the environmental movement and the push to generate interest and jobs in a clean energy economy.

Groups like will gain grassroots members and the 10/10/10 movement may gain a little boost to identify and tackle projects that make the world a better place.

I'm inspired by something U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said: “In too many areas of our country, the burden of environmental degradation falls disproportionately on low-income and minority communities – and most often, on the children who live in those communities. Our environmental laws and protections must extend to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.”

Photo: KQED Quest. One of many signs at Hunter's Point Shipyard in San Francisco.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

US gets serious about offshore wind

Offshore wind may soon take a cue from Oliver Twist and ask for more. Way more.

The U.S. Department of Energy is taking comments on a draft plan for developing offshore wind power and sponsoring seminars about creation of an offshore industry.

At this point, the industry is in its infancy with only one project, Cape Wind in Massachusetts, approved. About four others are close behind in the regulatory wings.

But the DOE's embrace is a big step for a neglected resource many believe has the potential to supply a serious percentage of this nation's electricity demand.

Officially dubbed "Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States: A Strategic Work Plan," the 49-page draft was drawn up for DOE by its Wind and Water Power Program. The fact that a wind and water program even exists is a big deal.

There was a time when DOE meant nothing but nuclear. The agency traces its history back to the Manhattan project in 1942 (look for parallels to SyFy's "Eureka" this season) and was finally realized as DOE after President Carter made the switch from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1977. But I digress.

The draft spells out the hurdles -- high cost, technical challenges and connecting to the grid -- and objectives. Permitting is also a huge issue to navigate. How does a new technology get by regulators? Gives me a headache just thinking about the requirements the first projects will have to produce.

Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. will be one of the permit pioneers, 10 miles off the lake's coast near Cleveland. Officials with the organization are working closely with regulators and an experienced development team.

The draft offshore wind plan outlined some pretty significant goals. It establishes an initiative to "achieve a scenario of 54 gigawatts of deployed offshore wind generating capacity by 2030, at a cost of energy of 7-9 cents per kilowatt-hour."

That's huge. The interim target is 10 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020 at a much more modest cost of 13 cents kilowatt hour.

The initiative will seek to bolster technological development, remove market barriers and help create demonstration projects. The effort will "augment" about $100 million allocated to offshore wind research through stimulus funds, or the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

The plan says most offshore wind development is in Europe but points out that the United States has vast potential due to its significant coastlines. And it doesn't even specify Alaska -- talk about coastline. Heck, toss a cable across the Bering Sea and sell excess to Russia and China.

Europe's heavily subsidized program is about a decade old. Some 39 projects have been built with more than 2,000 megawatts of capacity. "The EU and the European Wind Energy Association have established aggressive targets to install 40 GW of offshore wind by 2020 and 150 GW by 2030," the plan said.

DOE looks as if its willing to assist. The agency has held a couple of recent seminars (one in Cleveland) and is actively working to get input on the draft plan and publicity for the issue.

It's not a Manhattan Project, but I'd like to hear Liam Neeson say, "Release the Kraken," and be referring to a flood of approved projects welcomed by coastal residents. Of course.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Walmart Announces Big Solar Push in California

The nation's largest retailer is aiming to be the greenest retailer too, announcing Monday that it will install lower-cost thin film solar-generating systems on 20 to 30 sites in California and Arizona.

The announcement is another step toward Walmart's goal of 100% renewable energy. That's an ambitious program, but at $405 billion in annual revenue it has the financial horsepower to be a leader in the industry.

As announced, Walmart newest program calls for thin solar panels, which are less expensive but also less efficient than traditional panels, according to this USA Today story, but should still supply 20% to 30% of the total energy needs for each location, Walmart said in a statement.

That is enough to power about 1,750 houses for a year and will cut more than 11,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, which is the same as removing 3,000 vehicles from roads.

We've written about Walmart's sustainability efforts here, here and here. The company is using a variety of green technology, including wind turbines (in some cases turbines sit atop parking lot lights) and fuel cells.

In Mexico, it buys energy from a local wind far and has installed solar panels on two facilities. In Canada, it is testing geothermal, fuel cells, solar, wind and is the largest corporate purchaser of low-emission power through a local clean-energy provider.
(Photo of wind turbines upon a Sam's Club from

Friday, September 17, 2010

Biggest Solar Plant Approved in California

The approval of a solar thermal plant by the California Energy Commission is the latest in a string of similar proposals that, if developed, could deliver more than 1,500 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 1.5 million homes.

Energy commissioners just licensed the Blythe Solar Power Project a concentrated solar thermal electric-generating facility with four adjacent and identical solar plants of 250 megawatt each that could produce up to 1,000 megawatts.

Todd Woody, in this New York Times blog, calls it the world's largest solar thermal plant.

The project, which still awaits major financing, would use arrays of parabolic mirrors, similar to those in the photo, collect heat energy from the sun to create steam and then energy. The site is about two miles north of U.S. Interstate-10 and eight miles west of the City of Blythe in an unincorporated area of Riverside County.

The total area that will be disturbed by project construction and operation will be about 7,030 acres. The area inside the project's security fence, within which all project facilities will be located, will occupy approximately 5,950 acres.

That's big. And Woody noted that an additional 2,829 megawatts of solar power is on the drawing boards and facing at Dec. 31 approval deadline. We've written about some of that here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Offshore wind farms gain watery foothold

A wind farm is expected to sprout from Lake Erie five to 10 miles offshore from Cleveland.

It'll start small at 20 megawatts or so. But the developer, nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. has bigger plans, aiming for 1,000 megawatts over the next decade.

"We want Northern Ohio to be the epicenter of a new freshwater offshore wind power industry with associated manufacturing, shipping, and construction jobs," said Lorry Wagner, Lake Erie Energy Development Corp president, in a statement Tuesday about the naming of the project's development team. "Today's milestone will position our region as a model for innovation in clean energy and help spur economic development in Northern Ohio."

Construction is expected to start sometime in 2012.

Wagner's project treads groundbreaking territory. Should his team, which includes Bechtel and two other companies with big experience in wind and offshore development, succeed in navigating regulatory hurdles, their project would be one of a select few in the nation and a beacon to others.

The sight of wind turbines may have become common in many regions and people like former oil man T. Boone Pickens may have bought heavily into the concept. But that's on land. Offshore wind farms just don't happen in the United States.

Perhaps this is best illustrated by the nine-year controversy surrounding the Cape Wind project was approved in April by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Yet, the 130 turbines, which are scheduled to be installed off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass. by 2012, remain politically sensitive.

Jim Motavelli in a story that appeared soon after the Cape Wind approval wrote on that the project was the first to be federally approved offshore.

The U.S. Department of Energy in its 2009 Wind Market Report said: "2,476 MW of offshore projects have advanced significantly in the permitting and development process. Of those projects, three have signed or proposed power purchase agreements with terms and details have been made public ... and a variety of other recent project and policy announcements demonstrate accelerated activity in the offshore wind energy sector."

Motavelli, a New York Times contributor and author, said DOE has reported the United States has the capacity to generate significantly more than 20 percent of its energy from wind.

Wagner's Lake Eerie project is one of the steps to realizing that potential. He said on the phone Tuesday that they're taking it slow and keeping the project small to start. He said Ohio regulators are working with his team -- Bechtel Development Co. Inc., Cavallo Great Lakes Ohio Wind LLC and Great Lakes Wind Energy LLC -- to craft a strategy for moving forward.

After all, while offshore natural gas development in the lake -- on the Canadian side -- is common, offshore wind power is a completely new concept and none of the environmental concerns has been addressed. Nor is there a specific process by which to address them.

Wagner said his development team was chosen for its talent and experience.

Indicators suggest more regional governments will be working to craft regulations for offshore wind power. The feds likely will have a lot more projects to review and include in their annual wind reports about offshore installations from here on out.

I'd like to see a couple of monster wind machines in Shelikof Strait in Alaska. I recall a trip in 1971 returning from Kodiak Island in my uncle's 50-foot fishing boat riding 30 or 40 foot seas and a relatively warm post-Christmas wind beating the heck out us. May as well harness that. With such resources -- and a long cable -- wind power could energize the Kenai Peninsula.

Parking Garage Takes The Green

More cities and businesses are turning garages and carports into generators of solar power. This 11-story parking garage in Chicago takes that a major step forward. It has to be one of the coolest green projects in the country.

Introducing Greenway Self-Park. It features an array of vertical wind turbines on its southwest corner to make the most of the Windy City's namesake features. It has plug-ins for electric cars, a cistern rain-water collection system and services by companies that allow people who don't have vehicles to share one when they need wheels.

The developers are pursuing LEED certification. Read all about it here at Clean Fleet Report, where reporter John Addison also praises the sustainability efforts of Chicago city leaders. The lakeside city receives high rankings by SustainLane.

An industry blog, Concrete Products, also has information.
(Photo by

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

SJVCEO tackles energy efficiency retrofits

We are finally moving ahead with a $4 million energy efficiency project that's been in bureaucratic limbo for the past eight months.

Back in January, the staff of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, the Air District and officials from 33 Valley cities and three counties submitted applications to the California Energy Commission for energy saving retrofits on municipal buildings. The money was a direct allocation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act given to cities aross the nation to jump start the economy.

That jump start, at least in our case, was somewhat delayed. However, state officials now say they're raring to go.

The SJVCEO provides the administration duties for these Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants. The duties were far greater than advertised and required quite a bit of data collection after the original submission date.

And we've got a lot more to go. I suspect it will take us a couple of weeks (or more) to gather permits, fill out waste management plans and fill in all the unanswered questions required in the CEC's multi-page reporting form.

Projects involve replacing lights, pumps and AC units.

But at least we can get to work and free up this money meant to create jobs. Optimistically, I believe work will start before the end of the year.

Sugar Beets Could Become Power Source in Fresno County

A proposal to build a plant to convert sugar beets to energy is likely to get an initial $1.5 million boost from a California Energy Commission grant.

The proposal by a group of farmers to revive the county's sugar beet industry and create ethanol and green energy is still a long way from reality. This Fresno Bee story by Robert Rodriguez says the project could cost $200 million and wouldn't be operational until 2014.

But, it is the kind of project that supporters say could be a natural in the central San Joaquin Valley, where unemployment is high and farm work is seasonal. This particular proposal - the Mendota Advanced Bioenergy Beet Cooperative - would create about 100 jobs and up to $100 million in annual revenue, according to the Bee story.

It also is an interesting proposal because the proposed site is near the 80-acre Covanta Energy plant, which receives wood waste diverted from landfills, wood from replanted orchards and residue created from the processing of olives, almonds, prunes, peaches and other products.

The Covanta facility processes 600 tons of biomass material into enough energy each day to power 25,000 homes, according to its Web site.
The beet site also is near a 50-acre solar park, so the region could become a mini-hub of alternative energy - and a showcase for projects that follow.
(photo of sugar beet by


Monday, September 13, 2010

5 wind projects get DOE grants

Federal officials have invested big in weather forecasting and other wind related technologies, citing a goal of doubling U.S. wind-generation capacity.

More than $5 million in grants will go to five projects, the U.S. Department of Energy said today. Two will be used to help utilities better plan around the variability of wind energy. The other three grants assist development of mid-sized wind turbines used at such locations as schools, farms and factories.

"Wind power holds enormous potential to help reach our nation's clean energy goals," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement. "Today's awards will help better integrate wind energy into the electrical grid and will support the development of midsize wind turbines that can be used to provide renewable electricity in communities across the country."

The move is another that beefs up one of the most promising U.S. alternative energy sources. The private sector is humming with proposals looking to expand the reach of wind farms from Montana to Chesapeake Bay. And Southern California Edison -- like many others -- is investing big bucks into new and bigger transmission lines. In SCE's case, it's to get power from growing Tehachapi, Calif.-area wind farms to the Los Angeles market.

Last month, Terra-Gen Power LLC says it secured $1.2 billion to build four wind-powered electrical generation projects near Tehachapi. Officials estimate the project will generate about 1,500 jobs and have a combined generating capacity of 570 megawatts, expanding the wind farm by about 20 percent.

DOE reported 10 gigawatts of wind-powered capacity added nationwide last year for a $21 billion investment, enough to power about 2.4 million homes. Yet wind still delivers a paltry 2.5 percent of the nation's electrical supply, DOE said.

But that is expected to grow. One of the drawbacks is the intermittent nature of wind. When it blows, energy can be produced. When it's not, another source must take up the slack.

Two of the latest DOE grants, to AWS Truepower LLC in Albany, N.Y. and WindLogics Inc. in Saint Paul, Minn., will lead teams and work with DOE and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to install "advanced atmospheric measurement systems over a broad area, provide data that allow advanced weather prediction systems to improve short-term turbine-level wind forecasts and demonstrate the value of these forecasting improvements for electric utility operations."

Better forecasting solves only part of the problem. Carl Borgquist, president of Grasslands Renewable Energy, a wind startup in Bozeman, has a high-priced proposal he believes will solve it.

Borgquist told that wind needs a way to get the energy to market. That means costly transmission lines, and Borgquist said the only way to make them cost-efficient is to fill them up.

That means backup energy. Coal and natural gas are the most lucrative possibilities.

But Borgquist has another idea. He told Forbes about his pump-storage proposal: "Pump water uphill when there is excess power, and let it run downhill through a hydroturbine when power is needed."

It needs lakes, a hill and a lot of cash. It's uncertain if others share his vision. The cost Forbes mentioned was $3.25 billion for 1,000 megawatts of steady clean power.

Here's a detailed list of the DOE grants:
  • AWS Truepower: $2.15 million. Targets high-wind region in Texas and works with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages an electric power system with the largest amount of wind power capacity in the United States. Include Texas Technological University, North Carolina State University, University of Oklahoma and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  • WindLogics: $1.25 million. Spans several Upper-Midwest states and many active wind energy projects and assesses utility benefits with the Midwest Independent System Operator. Corporate parent NextEra Energy Resources will provide meteorological data from 14 wind plants totaling about 2 gigawatts of capacity. Includes South Dakota State University and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  • Clean Green Energy LLC of Brighton, Mich., $620,000: Bring a 200-kilowatt vertical axis wind turbine design into cost-effective mass production. The vertical turbine design will allow for distributed onsite generation near buildings.
  • Northern Power Systems of Barre, Vt., $620,000: Leveraging about $10 million in private sector capital to develop a 450-kilowatt turbine, helping to complete the final turbine design, procurement, and prototype testing within 18 months. The project is expected to reduce the cost of energy from midsize turbines.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, $620,000: Adapt a turbine featuring two blades downwind of the tower. This turbine design builds available technology and scales it up to a 500-kilowatt rated output. Allows installation without cranes and seeks to compete on cost with fossil fuel power generation.

Water Conference Planned For Tulare

The state of water in the Central Valley, current and proposed policies and renewable energy generation will be among the topics when Southern California Edison hosts a water conference Sept. 29 in Tulare.

The event will be from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. at SCE's Agriculture Technology Application Center (AgTAC).

Speakers will include California Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare; Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Authority; and Cynthia Truelove, senior water policy analyst for the California Public Utilities Commission.

Truelove will be the luncheon speaker. Her topic: "Emerging Policy Frontiers in the Water and Energy Nexus: From Renewable Energy to Funding Innovation in the Water/Wastewater Sector."

Breakout sessions in the afternoon will focus on renewable energy generation. Electric utility incentives, agricultural efficiency, cool planet projects and energy partnerships will be among the topics.

For more information or to register call 1-800-772-4822 or 559-625-7126. Online registration is at

Friday, September 10, 2010

No solar for the White House

Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben and his merry band of modern-day pranksters didn't get President Obama to put solar on the White House after all.

"Somber meeting at the @WhiteHouse," McKibben said in a tweet after this morning's meeting. "They don't want the panel, will continue 'deliberative process' re the roof. On we go!"

The crew drove from Unity College in Maine with a vintage solar panel that President Jimmy Carter installed during his presidency. It was removed by a subsequent administration, and that's how Unity got ahold of it.

Part of the mission was to promote Oct. 10, or 10/10/10, an effort launched by McKibben and students to stage a global work day in which teams pursue clean energy projects across the globe. is the website coordinating various projects.

The solar panel will not return to Maine.

"As for now, the Carter panel will stay in D.C., a symbol of a road not taken, yesterday and today," said a post on "The fantastic Unity College crew will head back up to Maine and start classes for the semester. And Bill McKibben will head home for a few days of rest, before hitting the road again to promote 10/10/10."

U.S. invests big in new generation hydropower

Hydropower may take on entirely different dimension should the technologies receiving a new round of federal grants prove commercially viable.

The 27 projects selected Thursday for $37 million in clean energy cash include tidal-powered buoys, current-capturing undersea devices and various devices that generate power from waterflow wherever it can be harnessed.

"These innovative projects will help grow water power's contribution to America's clean energy economy," said Steven Chu, U.S. Department of Energy secretary, in a statement. He said it's the largest investment of federal money to date in marine and hydrokinetic technologies.

Investment in marine hydropower has grown significantly in recent years, following similar trends in other forms of alternative energy. Earlier this year, the British subsidiary of German utility E.ON AG brought its first wave energy hydropower device, capable of 750 kilowatts, to the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scotland, according to E.ON UK CEO Paul Golby called it "a milestone in marine technology."

However, much of the technology is still in that "wouldn't that be cool" stage, but the private sector sees promise and is investing big in a raft of concepts and competing systems. has a round up of more than a dozen.

The DOE-funded projects involve the private sector, universities, national laboratories and other groups. They harness waves, tides, currents, thermal gradients and rivers. The grants are meant to develop the technologies and leverage financial backing from other sources.

Major projects include:
  • A 150-kilowatt PowerBuoy system in the Oregon seas by Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies Inc. DOE is putting up $2.4 million, about half the project's cost.
  • Five tidal turbines from Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. that capture and harness cross flows at depths of up to 150 feet. DOE is putting up $10 million, about half the cost.
  • Two 10-meter diameter turbines in Puget Sound's Admiralty Inlet by Snohomish County Public Utility District in Everett, Wash. DOE is pitching in $10 million, about half the cost.

Other projects include a device that converts fast-moving river currents to energy by Pittsburgh-based Bayer Material Science LLC. DOE is giving it $240,000.

Also getting $240,000 is an "innovative air pressure device utilizing bi-directional turbines" to capture wave energy by Salem, Ore.-based M3 Wave Energy Systems LLC.

The Regents of the University of California in Davis received $158,000 to develop a reliable and cost-effective tidal turbine, while Makai Ocean Engineering Inc. in Kailua, Hawaii got $240,000 to study ocean thermal energy conversion.

Photo: Ocean Power Technologies Inc.'s Oregon ocean power device.

State Forms Site For Green Jobs

California energy officials have created a Website devoted to green jobs.

The site describes 48 training programs that are offered by workforce investment boards, community colleges, labor and trade organizations and private industry. There are links to workshops and to industry and employment reports. People also can can register to receive e-mail alerts on items related to green energy.

Worldwide, about 2.3 million people are employed directly or indirectly in renewable energy, according to the independent research Worldwatch Institute. In California, the figure is about 433,000 workers, or 3.4% of the labor force.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger believes green-energy jobs will grow, and the new Website is part of what he says is the largest state-sponsored green jobs training program in the nation.

"The (Website) is a showcase for the training program in which government and private industry are coming together to make our state a leader in the new, sustainable economy," he said.

It remains to be seen how fast the green economy grows in this time of deficit budgets, penny-pinching and fighting over California's landmark greenhouse gases law, but colleges and high schools are moving forward. At West Hills Community College in Coalinga, students learned to install solar panels, with 70 of them finding work on a 40-acre solar farm in Mendota, on the west side of Fresno County.

High schools also are getting into the act. Buchanan High School in Clovis is debuting an energy academy this year. It exposes students to renewable energy and features wind turbines, solar panels, floor heating and water storage from rain runoff to irrigate a rooftop garden, according to The Fresno Bee and this blog item.

Edison High School in Fresno, New Energy Academy in Stockton and Independence High School in Bakersfield are developing renewable-energy programs in cooperation with Pacific Gas & Electric.

"Green energy is a growing field that is critical to turn the tide on climate change. I am excited that California students in these programs will be learning about technologies that can help the entire planet," said State Superintendent of Education Jack O'Connell.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

2 ways to learn all about electric cars

Electric cars remain commercially unproven.

The market is largely untested as it awaits the debut later this year of the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF and the expected introduction of the Coda next year.

But Southern California Edison, PG&E and other utilities have offered a major indicator that big changes are in store on American highways. The two California utilities have created a series of web pages for owners of plug-in electric vehicles.

The move stems from a declaration about a year ago by the Edison Electric Institute to prepare for the potential power drain.

“At a time of mounting concern about climate change, U.S. energy security and unemployment, plug-in electric vehicles will help tame carbon emissions while reducing oil imports and creating jobs," said Tom Kuhn, institute president, in a statement. "We also are mindful of President Obama’s very ambitious challenge to put one million PEVs on the road by 2015.”

Other utilities in the industry association include Dominion, DTE Energy, Connecticut Light & Power, CenterPoint Energy and Hawaiian Electric Co. But for purposes of this post, I'll keep the emphasis on two: PG&E and SCE.

1. The SCE site addresses many of the potential issues consumers face when considering a completely new technology, that many say costs just 2 cents a mile. The utility advises consumers to fill out its "Plug-In Ready Checklist" to help prepare them for electrical needs, potential home electrical upgrades and introduce potential deals on off-peak electricity consumption.

On the site, utility officials discuss potential effects to electricity rates from increasing demand by consumers to recharge cars ("rates will be determined in large part by the California Public Utilities Commission") and to the electrical grid ("how customers charge their vehicles ... will become a significant factor in determining the impact.")

2. PG&E likewise offers consumers a plethora of information on its EV web page. It explained details like how 110-volt, 20-amp outlets take about eight hours to recharge a car or how a consumer could cut that to a "few hours or less" with a 240-volt, 40-amp system.

But officials also offered this nugget, answering a a major concern over recharging I've had with electric vehicles. "Ultimately, advances in battery and charger technology could enable charging in the time it takes to fill a gas tank. Because of the high voltage involved -- 480 volts or more, which can be expensive to install -- such rapid charging would likely be available only at sites serving multiple BEVs, such as fleet garages or retail charging stations."

That's a potential game changer. Power it up Captain. Launch photon torpedoes and shift all available energy to phasers.

Devolved into an original Star Trek episode briefly. But the concept is sound, and this electric car concept could catch on.

Photo: SCE's plug-in hybrid at AgTAC.

Football season is here. Is renewable energy right behind?

The first question is: Why did it take so long?

Sports leagues in the United States say they will encourage professional teams to embrace renewable energy at their stadiums. It's not a mandate, according to this blog item by Todd Woody in Grist, but a push in that direction by professional sports is huge.

After all, professional sports is big business, a catalyst and a trendsetter. There are reasons why cereal and shoe companies pay millions to have sports stars endorse their products.

Consider this: More than 123 million people attended a professional baseball, basketball, hockey or football game in the U.S. and Canada in 2009.

"Frankly, sports matter," Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Grist.

Cities are starting to put solar panels and wind turbines on buildings, bus shelters, parking garages, and power poles. Some stadiums also are going green - The Staples Center has saved $100,000 in power costs by using solar panels and University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona buys power through a renewable-energy program - but much more can be done.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.
Photo by

Mid-life crisis? Clean Air Act turns 40

Lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni in the off-Broadway debut of the musical "Hair" in October 1967 set the stage for one of the most powerful pieces of environmental legislation in U.S. history.

Welcome sulphur dioxide,
Hello carbon monoxide
The air, the air is everywhere
Breathe deep, while you sleep, breathe deep

Less than four years later, President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and soon after that formed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement the landmark legislation.

On Sept. 14, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson will mark the 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act's passage at a Washington, D.C. conference. She'll be joined by "leading contributors who have helped shape the act over the past 40 years." The list includes politicians, private sector types and activists.

The real test is the air itself. I live in California's Central San Joaquin Valley, a hotbed of agriculture known for its brown, smog-filled skies. Allergy doctors do well here, and bad-air days are as common as rain in the Pacific Northwest.

Foul air settles in the Valley, which has very little wind and zero rain in summer. Reportedly, noxious emissions from the Bay Area and possibly as far away as China make their way to settle in scenic Fresno and the foothills of the Sierra Mountains.

Thursday's Air Quality Index rating by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District showed a moderate 97 for Fresno County, and an "unhealthy for sensitive groups" 110 for Tulare County just to the south. Ratings below 50 are considered good.

Worldwide it's not much better. According to, our air has 390 parts per million of carbon dioxide and should have 350 ppm to be considered healthy. The organization has launched a campaign to reduce the amount through grassroots activities on Oct. 10.

Author and clean air activist Bill McKibben says even if we succeed on removing all the fossil fuel belching cars, factories and other contributors, we'll still see the globe warming for decades. He says our prospects are dour.

This comes despite positive moves in past years. argues that the amendments added to the Clean Air Act in 1990 gave the law the teeth it needed to go after polluters. "There is no better tool for cleaning up toxic air pollution," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew on the website.

Those amendments, by the way, were signed by President George H.W. Bush, who said at the time: "This bill means cleaner cars, cleaner power plants, cleaner factories and cleaner fuels; it means a cleaner America."

Eliminating the brown nasty air remains a huge challenge. While most of us prefer the smell of clean air (I recall the undeniable freshness after thunderstorms in Fairbanks, Alaska), we still want our cars, our houses at 76 degrees (or so) and the independence of urban and rural sprawl.

And everybody seems to have an opinion. A search for "clean air act importance" on Google turned up a post from the Nuclear Energy Institute that basically said: "Want to clean the air? Go nuclear." I paraphrase. However, the writer does have a point. Dealing with the political fallout and spent plutonium is another matter.

And some want status quo. There's the movement supporting Proposition 23 in California, which would roll back the state's Global Warming Solutions Act. Also known as AB 32, the act seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California to 1990 levels by 2020.

Needless to say, Prop. 23 wouldn't help clean the air. It's supported by Texas refiners Tesoro and Valero and just got a $1 million boost from Koch Industries, a company notorious for its anti-environmental stance. Rebecca Lefton called the trio the "toxic triplets" in a post on

The battle continues. Coal is in the sights of many environmental groups, and the industry is fighting back, trying to keep coal ash from being regulated as hazardous waste and keeping coal mines and coal-fired power plants operational. Of course, the argument there is that coal is domestic, in abundant supply and the industry offers massive employment in questionable times.

It's time for clean energy to step up. Many reports say the industry, such as it is, will generate millions of new jobs. Where are they?

Those interested in listening in on EPA's 40-year look-back event can see it webcast live at

Photo: Rocky Mountains.

Fresno Church Gets LEED Gold Rating

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno has received LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) Gold certification, the first development in the central San Joaquin Valley to gain this prestigious designation.

A plaque honoring the LEED rating will be affixed to the church in a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 5. Tours will begin immediately afterward, followed by the program, “The UUCF LEED Gold Project, a Case Study,” at 6:30 p.m.

The church, near Alluvial and Willow avenues, finished construction in 2008, and is the first new construction project between Merced and Bakersfield to be certified LEED Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council.

A project must achieve at least 39 points out of a 69-point rating system to achieve that status. The church project reached 41 points, said George Burman, LEED Project Administrator for the church.

The congregation strongly endorsed the LEED efforts, even though it added 1% to 2% to the cost. In fact, the members were willing to pay as much as 10% more to get the certification.

“It was more a matter of principle than cost, Burman said. “It was not a question of financial payback, but rather of our responsibility to the environment.”

“With each new LEED certified building, we get one step closer to the U.S. Green Building Council’s vision of a sustainable built environment within a generation,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, chief executive officer and founding chair of the council. “The Unitarian Universalist Church is an important addition to the growing strength of the green-building movement.”

Energy efficiency is the hallmark of the new building; an analysis of the energy consumption indicates that the church uses 53.6% less energy than what is required under California’s Title-24 energy efficiency standard. The church also received points for use of recycled and non-toxic building materials, use of natural daylight, site location, landfill waste diversion and even waterless urinals.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Top 12 international U.S. companies named

The U.S. Secretary of State's office today released the list of finalists for its 2010 Award for Corporate Excellence, and one thing is certain.

Listed qualifications included clean-energy buzz words like clean technology, sustainability, environmental stewardship and carbon negative. It just goes to show that the concept promoted by the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization and an increasing list of others is adopting followers -- in the private sector no less.

The dozen U.S. companies were chosen from a record number of 78 nominations submitted by American ambassadors around the world, officials said. Finalists are considered international business leaders that recognize the "vital role" that U.S. businesses play abroad as good corporate citizens.

This year’s finalists are:

Alta Ventures in Mexico – for the venture capital company’s work to open Mexico’s venture capital market; foster greater investment, employment, entrepreneurship and U.S. exports; and share best practices in areas such as education, innovation, remittances, crime mapping, clean technology, health care, and information technology

Cisco in Israel – for the computer networking company’s efforts to reconnect the Israeli and Palestinian economies and people; build a sustainable model of job creation and economic development; and engage in several partnerships and initiatives to enhance technical capacity, connectivity, education and opportunities for women and youths in Israel and Palestine

Coca-Cola in Swaziland – for the beverage company’s work to improve local communities’ water, education, and health; promote entrepreneurship; foster local science and technology initiatives; and demonstrate exemplary employment practices.

Denimatrix in Guatemala – for the textile and apparel company’s environmental stewardship in reducing the environmental impact stemming from its production process; contributing to the development of the local economy; and reaching out to the community to help disadvantaged youth and the homeless

Fiji Water in Fiji – for the bottled water company’s disaster relief efforts; volunteerism; partnerships that focus on local health, education, and provision of water; and “carbon negative” approach to product lifecycle and conservation efforts

GE in India – for the diversified technology, media and financial services company’s fostering of local partnerships and volunteerism, supporting health, education, innovation and disaster recovery projects across India; exemplary employment practices; and promotion of cleaner, more energy efficient products

Intel in Costa Rica – for the semiconductor company’s contributions to revolutionizing science and technology education in Costa Rica’s public schools through volunteer programs and community leadership; volunteerism; and practicing environmental stewardship that benefits local communities through means such as innovative recycling programs

Mars Inc. in Ghana – for the confectionery manufacturer’s improvement of farming methods, sensitizing communities against child labor, and promoting the overall well-being and sustainability of cocoa growing communities; building partnerships to advance community empowerment; and contributing to the sustainable growth of rural economies

PepsiCo in India – for the beverage company’s fostering of environmental sustainability through water conservation efforts, which has benefited small and marginal farmers; supporting the health and well-being of local communities; and providing important employment opportunities through training with a focus on diversity and inclusion

Qualcomm in China – for the wireless company’s initiatives in education, health care and entrepreneurship; improving economic conditions; and enhancing the quality of life for Chinese citizens, particularly in underserved communities

Synopsys in Armenia – for the software and programming company’s promotion of U.S. and foreign investors by showcasing Armenia as a potential informational technology hub; collaboration with universities on IT training programs; and reduction of pollution levels by planting hundreds of trees to counter recent deforestation

Tang Energy in China – for the energy company’s efforts to promote development and U.S.-Sino cooperation in clean energy technologies; enhance industrial energy efficiency; and provide student health and education opportunities

Global warming debate heats up

Global warming predictions evoke anger or fear in some, cynicism in others and denial in an increasingly vocal group.

Whatever the outcome, many of us older types won't be around for the final act.

Perhaps we may see the opening credits. Here's hoping it won't turn out like "The Day After Tomorrow," which sent tidal waves into New York City and temperatures plunging in North America.

Two authors have taken decidedly different tacks about how to approach the issue. Bill McKibben, author, activist and founder, took off today from Unity College in Maine with one of the original solar panels from the roof of the White House. It was put there by President Jimmy Carter and taken down by President Ronald Reagan.

McKibben wants it restored to its rightful place. His quest is chronicled at He said in a tweet this morning: "Headed for the White House with the Carter solar panels. See you en route I hope."

Author Roger Colley took a stab at the debate through the recent release of his book, "A Truthful Myth," and accompanying website.

The book is described as a suspense/action/romance that "promotes the view that climate science is unsettled ... and needs to be further opened, researched and improved."

Here's a synopsis: "The novel relates an unlikely but possible scenario: an oracle predicts gradual global warming suddenly turns abrupt, catastrophic, and the new president must find a way to save America. The ensuing story leads to an intriguing web of dramatic climate changes, new energy technologies, uncertain economics, and political upheaval. The young, romantically-linked engineers, Michael Reynolds and Rose Haines, must match wits with the president's villainous Chief-of-Staff in their attempts to favorably resolve the destiny of the nation. Beyond their heroic efforts, the two protagonists open the door to a host of American values in jeopardy, even beyond climate change and global warming. Can America be saved?"

One thing is certain: More are adopting the attitude that money can be saved through energy efficiency and that alternative forms of power generation -- that don't put CO2 into the air -- make more sense than ever.

The next few years will be interesting to say the least. Of course, quite a bit depends on pricing and technological developments. Fossil fuels will remain a big part of the energy picture.

But just how big depends on individual will.

Photo: Pioneering eco-warrior President Carter in 1979 with White House solar panels.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Top 5 electric cars go head to head

Should the average consumer buy into this electric car craze?

I don't know. Really. I believe in clean energy, but I'm sold on gasoline (even though at 14 I blew myself up in Fairbanks trying to start a pile of debris on fire with my 5-gallon container of chainsaw fuel. But that's another Human Torch type story.)

Gas has that hard-acceleration, immediate-return-on horsepower, lust-for-life feeling.

But give me $101,500 or $9,900 for a deposit and $1,658 a month for a lease and maybe I'll change my mind. That's the price for a Tesla Roadster. At 3.7 seconds from 0 to 60 mph and a range of 245 miles, it's pretty close to perfect.

I pause here on a mental trip in that imaginary Roadster -- black, by the way -- down Highway 99 to Bakersfield. Make that past Bakersfield and up the Grapevine to Vallejo and Magic Mountain, stomping the guts of BMWs and Mercedes that attempt to be fast. Ah ...

For purposes of this post, I have eliminated hybrids. No Toyota Prius or Camry. Skip the Honda Insight and Ford Escape. Electric only. Nor have I included lead-acid or lithium battery conversions.

And at this point, we only have Tesla on the road with a production vehicle. Actually, ZAP has to be tossed into the mix as well. The Santa Rosa-based company manufactures a line of small transporters. In July, the company inked a deal in which ZAP will acquire 51 percent of Chinese automaker Zhejiang Jonway Automobile Co. Ltd. for $29 million "as part of a strategy to capitalize on the growing automotive and electric vehicle market in China."

This list includes models expected to be available soon. So here goes.
  1. Tesla: Hands down. It's fast, cool looking and I could truly blow the doors off my friend Al's TA in OK City. He likes to race that hopped up big block 1977 Pontiac on the track.
  2. Chevy Volt. Very practical. It's versatile and not bad looking. The price is $41,000 and the range id 40 miles. However, it is supplemented by a gasoline-powered generator that allows it to go another 340 miles. Due out this fall.
  3. Nissan LEAF. Not bad. Sort of looks like an early generation Prius with a custom back end. The price tag for the SV package was listed as $32,780, while the SL package was $33,720. The SV includes a photovoltaic spoiler, rearview monitor and universal transceiver. Range is 100 miles. Due in California in December.
  4. Coda. Cool name. Last Led Zep album comes to mind. But unproven company in the United States. I was impressed with the website which calculated an annual expense comparison of my 2000 VW Passat and a Coda. Passat: $725, Coda: $124. Coda's sticker price is not listed on its site but it's expected to be in the low to mid $30,000 range.
  5. Sigma. lists Sigma/Montelle kit cars as a viable option. Manufactured by EV Concepts, it goes from 0 to 60 in 6 seconds and has a top speed of 100-120 mph. Price for two-wheel-drive models start at $23,000, and all-wheel-drive models start at $55,000.
There's also Ford, which is coming out with a stylish electric version of its Focus sometime next year and will follow with a line of electric vehicles, says Range for the Focus will be about 100 miles. And Audi, Mercedes and others are reportedly in R&D.

Fisker Automotive Inc. of Irvine is also coming out with a car, but it's going to be a hybrid.

Disclosure. I've not test driven any of these cars. For that I'd have to defer to Katie Fehrenbacher of, who can be seen in video piloting some of them.

The viability of going electric appears more likely by the month. But who knows. A friend of mine who's worked most of his life in the oil patch says, "Bah!" to most of this talk. His prediction: There's just too much oil and natural gas in reserve, counting shale and oil sands.

Photo: Sigma by EV Concepts.

State OKs Valley retrofit energy grants

Not only is it Friday before a three-day weekend for most, but the California Energy Commission has signed off on the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Partnership's grant agreement for member cities that applied using the direct-purchase formula.

The partnership is an alliance including the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization and 36 cities and counties in the Valley. It was formed to help jurisdictions administer Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants.

The grants are direct allocations of federal stimulus funds and have been languishing for months as state officials worked to satisfy the many requirements involved in their distribution.

However, most of the $37.3 million approved statewide for lighting, air conditioning and other energy efficiency retrofits won't reach cities and counties until the jobs are complete. And that's still a long way off for most.

For partnership cities and counties, it means finally getting started installing the $4 million worth of work already listed and identified in the EECBG applications. Cities will need permits pulled for projects that require them. Copies of those permits will be electronically filed with the CEC, and a document stating none is needed also will have to be filed in cases that require it.

Waste management plans will be needed. These require documents that says the old fluorescent bulbs, ballasts and electric motors will go into the appropriate place. They require registering for a specific number with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or CalEPA.

I expect to encounter glitches.

Of course, the real retrofit work will need to be accomplished. Thus far all that's been done to get this stimulus money into the economy has been paperwork.

Requests for proposals must be generated so that contractors promising to buy American and pay prevailing wage can actually get started. The SJVCEO will tackle the RFP task next week.

In some cases, cities or counties plan to do the work in house, saving money and jobs.

And that's what it's all about. Jobs. Let's hope this money saves some while saving kilowatts and money formerly spent on electricity.

Should There Be A National Retrofit Program?

It is no secret that retrofitting existing buildings is the best and fastest way to cut energy use. We've written about it here and here, but it's a difficult concept for some people to grab.

Now, the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan research group in Washington D.C., and independent power producer Energy Resource Management are calling for a national program to retrofit homes, offices and factories for energy efficiency.

The report examines effective programs in various states, and suggests those could be models for a national program that mobilizes private sector investment. The paper identifies 10 effective policies; lists 10 states with cutting-edge energy programs (California is there) and 10 states that have strong potential for development of energy-efficiency programs; and acknowledges certain market barriers.

Some federal energy retrofit initiatives already exist, such as the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income families. In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided millions in stimulus dollars for such projects.

But, the money hasn't necessarily translated to results, as this blog post and this letter from the state Office of the Inspector General in California note.

However, a national program could yield stunning results, the Center for American Progress says. A national retrofit program that retrofitted only 40% of the residential and commercial buildings in the United States would generate 625,000 jobs, spark $500 billion in new investments to 50 million homes and office buildings and generate $64 billion in energy savings.

That $64 billion is more than the $41 billion cited in a the aforecited Pike Research report, but the point is clear: retrofits are more bang for the buck.
"In the United States today, it takes nearly twice the energy required to produce every dollar of economic output compared with European and Asian nations, the American Progress study says. "But our current inefficiency is also a hidden resource."

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

China and US team for clean energy

Enter the Dragon.

China will play an integral part of a wide-ranging clean energy collaboration involving U.S. government agencies, the private sector and institutions of higher learning. Project members will research clean coal and electric vehicle technologies.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu made the announcement Thursday. The project, dubbed the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, will receive a total of about $100 million over the next five years. Half comes from the Chinese and another $25 million from the U.S. government. The balance will matched other partners.

A consortium led by the University of Michigan will head up vehicle research, while another, led by West Virginia University, will focus on clean coal. Each would contribute a match to the federal contribution.

"The U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center will help accelerate the development and deployment of clean vehicle and clean coal technologies here at home," Chu said in a statement. "This new partnership will also create new export opportunities for American companies, ensure the United States remains at the forefront of technology innovation and help to reduce global carbon pollution."

President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao formally announced the formation of the center during the president's trip to Beijing last November, DOE officials said. At the time, Secretary Chu joined Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang and Chinese National Energy Administrator Zhang Guobao to sign the protocol launching the center.

The United States and China are considered the world's top energy consumers, energy producers and greenhouse gas emitters. Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben said on David Letterman's Late Show this week that China's making a serious effort to get into clean energy.

"The Chinese are doing more than we are," McKibben said. He also said that if the percentage of Chinese families with cars reached U.S. rates, the world would be in trouble. As it stands, various sources peg automobile ownership by the Chinese in the single digits.
However, the Chinese are catching up -- fast. The blog Early Warning took data from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics and said if current trends continue, Chinese automobile ownership will surpass that of the United States by 2017.

Here are details of the two China-U.S. programs, according to DOE:

Clean coal: West Virginia University will lead a consortium that includes the University of Wyoming, University of Kentucky, Indiana University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Energy Technology Laboratory, World Resources Institute, U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum, General Electric, Duke Energy, LP Amina, Babcock & Wilcox and American Electric Power. The consortium will develop and test new technologies for carbon capture and sequestration.

Clean vehicles: The University of Michigan will lead a consortium that includes Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sandia National Laboratories, Joint BioEnergy Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, Cummins, Fraunhofer, MAGNET, A123, American Electric Power, First Energy and the Transportation Research Center. The consortium will focus on electric vehicles.

The $25 million in U.S. government funding will be used to support work conducted by U.S. institutions and individuals only, DOE said. Chinese partners will be announced in the coming months by the Chinese government.

The announcement of another $12.5 million to a third winning consortium focused on building energy efficiency will be made this fall.

My use of Enter the Dragon is an overt reference to Bruce Lee's only U.S.-produced film and the only one that used his real voice in copies of his films released in this country. Lee left a mark on an entire generation and the industry, and it's possible China may do the same with clean energy.

There's always Return of the Dragon, which brought us Chuck Norris. Keeping this analogy, Norris would represent this country. And nobody messes with Chuck Norris.

Renewables win 2, lose 1

Renewable energy in California took some punches to the gut and scored some victories some this week and last.

On the upside, the California Public Utilities Commission appears poised to launch an incentive program meant to boost renewable energy projects and San Luis Obispo County moved the 250 megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch a big step forward by issuing a draft environmental impact report.

On the downside, the California Legislature failed to pass a renewable energy bill and the industry still faces the potential passage of Prop. 23, which would roll back 2006 climate change laws.

The proposed CPUC decision issued this week would require California utilities to purchase power from solar and other renewables that produce from one megawatt to 20 megawatts. A megawatt is about the amount consumed by 1,000 homes.

The measure would establish what is known in the industry as a feed-in tariff, which essentially gives renewable energy generators about what it costs to produce power.

Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, hailed the CPUC decision. He said in a statement that the proposed measure would assist mid-sized solar projects, helping them secure support similar to the state's "robust policies for developing large, utility-scale solar power plants and for putting smaller systems on homes and businesses."

Browning said his organization looks forward to working with the CPUC to finalize details of the measure.

The "CPUC proposal is designed to unlock that missing piece, providing an additional opportunity for solar market and job growth and for quickly bringing massive new amounts of clean energy to the state,” he said.

The San Luis solar project is bound for 1,900 acres in the Carrizo Plains, an environmentally sensitive region known for endangered wildlife. Eric Wesoff of wrote that the environmental impact report, or EIR, involved 60 biologists and 30 biological surveys.

The EIR goes through a public comment period before heading back to county government for possible passage. Wesoff said trucks commissioned by developer San Jose-based SunPower could begin rolling by next summer.

The renewable energy bill ran out of time in the senate by the midnight deadline Tuesday. SB 722 would have turned an executive order signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger last year requiring that 33 percent of California's energy come from renewable sources by 2020 into law.

The failure disappointed supporters. Lauren Sommer of quoted Laura Wisland, a clean energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, as saying, "We think not establishing a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard this year is a huge loss to California's environment and economy."

Millions will choose electric cars, study says

Consumers across the globe will snap up electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles at a fast clip in the next five years, a study released Wednesday says.

The tally? About 3.2 million vehicles by 2015, growing at a compound annual rate of 106 percent, according to a report entitled "Plug-in Electric Vehicles" by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research.

Not bad for a sector that has yet to materialize in showrooms.

Plug-in and battery powered electric vehicles "will complement, rather than displacing, the market for conventional hybrid electric vehicles,” said Pike senior analyst Dave Hurst in a statement.

Hurst said while electric vehicles, like hybrids, will be sold initially as compact cars, other models will follow. He said SUVs will soon follow. "Because of their low weight and good aerodynamics, smaller vehicles are far more efficient to better extend the electrically powered driving range, and the smaller vehicle segments also allow the use of a smaller, less expensive battery,” he said.

Hurst said China will be the largest market for electric vehicles, representing 27 percent of worldwide sales. He said the United States will consume 26 percent.

Chevy is expected to come out with the Volt this fall. The Nissan LEAF shows up in California and three other states in December.

Photo: Courtesy Electric Auto Association.