Friday, October 29, 2010

Offshore wind energy gets cash, fame

Offshore wind has received a gale of attention in recent weeks.

More than 100 people showed up for a high-profile workshop this week in Chicago about developing wind energy in the Great Lakes. The event, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, drew wind developers and manufacturers, folks from nonprofit organizations and other industry experts as well as representatives from federal, state and local regulatory agencies.

The DOE also this week joined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and two other agencies to announce about $5 million in research awards meant to study siting and permitting of offshore wind turbines and ocean energy generated from "waves, tides, currents and thermal gradients."

Also this week, reported that federal, state and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth officials have announced plans to develop a 300-square-mile "marine renewable energy technology test bed" just south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The site is to be dubbed the the National Ocean Renewable Energy Innovation Zone and will allow companies to test and develop technology that harnesses energy from ocean wind, waves, tides and current.

And earlier this month, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a report that said harnessing even a fraction of the nation's potential offshore wind, estimated at more than 4,000 gigawatts, officials said, "could create thousands of jobs and help revitalize America's manufacturing sector, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diversify U.S. energy supplies, and provide cost-competitive electricity to key coastal regions."

"The nation's oceans represent a major potential source of clean renewable energy, and DOE is committed to developing the innovative technologies that will harness that potential," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, in announcing the money for research projects.

Chu said DOE's partnership with other federal agencies will help streamline development of offshore renewable energy projects, create jobs and enhance national energy security.

Commerce Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the grants will help understand offshore renewable energies environmental impacts and how to incorporate "appropriate mitigation measures from the outset."

The awards include:

  • $499,000 to Auburn, Wash.-based Parametrix for planning and siting research. 
  • $499,000 to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Bioacoustics Research Program in Ithaca, New York for studies to evaluate how sounds from construction and operation of offshore wind turbines affect surrounding environments. 
  • $745,000 to the University of Rhode Island for monitoring and study of offshore wind to provide regulatory agencies "with a comprehensive, yet flexible means of assessing the impacts of a broad range of offshore renewable energy resources projects on marine ecosystems." 
  • $746,000 to the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Scientists in Seattle, Wash. for evaluating acoustic technologies to monitor aquatic organisms at renewable sites. 
  • $499,000 to Pacific Energy Ventures in Portland, Ore. for studies and monitoring of renewable energy in the ocean. The intent is to create a system that can be used anywhere. 
  • $497,000 to the University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies in Fayetteville, Ark. to create a system that "will allow a user to design the spatial layout and content of an offshore facility, import and prepare geospatial data that will affect visibility, run a series of sophisticated visual analyses, define atmospheric, lighting and wave conditions and, finally generate one or a series of realistic visualizations from multiple viewpoints." 
  • $497,000 to the University of Texas at Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology for "carbon sequestration monitoring and risk assessment." 
  • $748,000 to the University of Massachusetts' Marine Renewable Energy Center in Dartmouth, Mass. to "develop a technology road map for the application of advanced spatial survey technologies, such as buoy-based LIDAR, to the assessment and post-development monitoring of offshore wind and hydrokinetic renewable energy resources and facilities."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

California, Massachusetts top list of energy efficient states

When it comes to energy efficiency, California ranks No. 1.

At least that was the finding of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in its recently released 2010 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard report.

Massachusetts placed second and Oregon, New York and Vermont round out the top five.

"Governors, state legislators and officials, and citizens increasingly recognize energy efficiency — the kilowatt-hours and gallons of gasoline that we don’t use thanks to improved technologies and practices — as the cheapest, cleanest, and quickest energy resource to deploy," the report's drafters said.

The findings reflect those of a recent report by San Francisco-based Clean Edge Inc., which listed California just ahead of Massachusetts in a study listing the top clean energy states. That study listed innovation in multiple sectors as a key to developing a green economy.

In addition to states taking a leadership role in the energy efficiency movement by undertaking new policies and programs, the ACEEE report found:

  • Alaska, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico showed the most improvement from last year's report by increasing investment in utility energy-savings programs, expanding state government initiatives and adopting better building codes. 
  • State spending of $4.3 billion on energy efficiency in 2009 was about double that of two years earlier. 
  • Twenty-seven states have adopted or are in the process of adopting energy efficiency resource standards that establish fixed, long-term energy efficiency savings targets. That's double the number four years ago. 
  • Twenty states have adopted or are in the process of adopting improved building codes that stress energy efficiency. 
  • California, Massachusetts and Washington have enacted greenhouse gas reduction targets related to transportation. 
  • The injection of more than $11 billion in federal stimulus funding for state energy efficiency projects has helped create new programs that are saving money and putting people to work.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Is filling up with algae fuel a decade away?

The prospect of tapping pond scum for fuel may not be so far off.

While significant hurdles remain -- algae-produced fats aren't as readily transformed into energy as, say, Texas tea -- many have joined the pursuit of commercialization and a recent study says plants could come on line in the next four to six years producing product competitive with conventional fuels.

Imagine driving down to the corner quick-rip grocer and filling it up with a little homegrown green.

A decade from now that might be possible.

Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research reports that by 2020, "production of biofuels derived from crude algae oil will reach 61 million gallons per year." Writers of the Pike Research report, industry analyst Mackinnon Lawrence and Pike President Clint Wheelock acknowledged the amount was "barely a drop in the bucket for biofuels" but said the potential production would represent a market value of $1.3 billion.

Cruise the online data provided by Oilgae, a biofuels support organization based in India, and you'll start believing the hype. The industry-supported research group reported that significant investments into the sector have come from Exxon Mobile, Shell, BP and even Bill Gates. Oilgae calls algae "the only biofuel that can completely replace fossil fuels."

The Associated Press reported this week that South San Francisco-based Solazyme recently sold the U.S. Navy 150,000 gallons of algae-produced fuel for testing in ships and jets and that the company received a $21.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a refinery in Riverside, Penn.

Algae definitely has its supporters. Rachel Ehrenberg of reported earlier this year that microalgae "have become a fledgling favorite in the renewable energy sector."

In January, the U.S. Department of Energy announced $44 million in funding for the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts. Led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo., the organization will seek to develop a method for commercializing algae-derived biofuel and related products. The agency is hedging its bets in the biofuels realm, giving $33.8 million to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to investigate and develop processing options for other types of "advanced biofuels."

Lawrence and Wheelock of Pike Research say the ultimate threat comes from over-hype. The industry, they say, lacks large-scale projects to substantiate claims and needs significant investment to reach widespread
commercialization. "If early-mover companies and pilot projects run into serious setbacks, expect a retrenchment among private capital interests," the researchers say.

In the renewables pantheon, biofuels, mostly developed from corn in this country, often get the sideways glance. They require energy to produce, still must be burned and because of that create greenhouse gasses. On the plus side, they aren't foreign oil.

U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a steady increase in domestic biofuels consumption, following current trends. The agency projects the strongest growth for renewable fuels used to generate electricity and those used in the transportation sector, citing programs like the federal renewable fuels standard. "Although fossil fuels continue to provide most of the energy consumed in the United States over the next 25 years ..., their share of overall energy use falls from 84 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in 2035," the agency said.

The Renewable Fuels Association in its 2010 outlook said that despite economic challenges, the U.S. ethanol industry has continued to expand. Production in 2009 reached an estimated 10.6 billion gallons, helping "support nearly 400,000 jobs in all sectors of the economy."

The association's outlook said "no fewer than 28 advanced biofuel companies are currently developing the much-needed technologies that will greatly expand ethanol production." Those facilities under development represent more than 170 million gallons of production and much more if they prove commercially successful, the report said.

The association said many employ cellulosic and advanced biofuel technologies and "hold the promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 100 percent compared to gasoline."

Ehrenberg of highlighted the research of a team from University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which examined the energy costs and environmental impacts of producing algae for fuel. The team, she wrote, found that "algae farms must minimize use of fertilizer and freshwater to compete with other biofuel plants."

Ehrenberg said the team suggested a solution would be placing algae operations next to "wastewater treatment plants or facilities that emit carbon dioxide."

Makes sense. I recall the "septic system" at our first place in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1969 was a pit in a tree-studded section of tundra. Great place for growing single-celled pond scum back then.

Now? Who knows?

Huge Solar Project Breaks Ground

We've written here and here about the potential for the deserts of Southern California to become Solar Central. Well, the first major project breaks ground today in the desolation of eastern San Bernardino County, only a few miles from Nevada.

If completed, the Ivanpah project and its 346,000 mirrors could generate enough power for 140,000 houses.

The process thus far hasn't always been smooth - there were concerns over the impact on the desert tortoise and the use of federal subsidies, according to this Los Angeles Times account - but the installation could be the first of many that brings thousands of badly needed construction jobs to California.

That alone would be enough to make California a leader in the solar industry, but efforts are also under way to make the west side of the San Joaquin Valley a hub for solar as well.
(photo by greentechmedia)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Would You Spend $30,000 To Save $250,000?

We here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization - which is based in Fresno, one of the hottest regions of California and with some of the highest power bills in the state - are all about energy efficiency.

Frankly, it boggles my mind that more property owners, legislators and policy makers still don't understand that energy retrofits are a great investment. Wouldn't you, as the headline to this article says, commit $30,000 to save $250,000 in expenses later?

Is there any investor who would not think that was a good return? Certainly, Chris Martin, director of energy management at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, thinks so. He led one of 14 teams across the country that participated in an EPA-sponsored Biggest Loser-style contest to shed the most energy weight, according to this New York Times story.

The Chapel Hill team spent $30,000 upgrading a residence hall on campus, and wound up slashing energy expenses $250,000, much of it by adjusting the heating and cooling system to run slower during moderate weather. All combined, the school cut energy use 36% .

The university engaged residents of the hall in the process. CityBiz Magazine said a touch-screen computer was installed in the dorm's lobby so students could track energy consumption. Each floor held energy-saving competitions, and reminders were posted in elevators, bathrooms, and common areas.

That means more money in university coffers. I don't know if Chapel Hill is strapped for cash, but I know a few campuses in California that would love the extra money.

Chapel Hill has seen the light, so to speak. Upgrades to 100 buildings on campus saved nearly $4 million last year, according to the New York Times. The average savings per building was $33,000. The average per-building investment: only $7,000.

"The payback is on the order of months, not years," Martin told the newspaper.

Other teams also got good returns for their investments. A Sears store in Maryland cut energy consumption 31.7%. A JC Penney outlet in Orange, Calif., reduced energy use 28.4%. Together, the 14 teams saved $950,000 on power bills.

Businesses and others in the San Joaquin Valley could probably reap good returns too. After all, temperatures reach triple digits in the summer. Businesses and families pay the price with heart-stopping power bills.

Retrofits and modifications such as these are the low-hanging fruit of the whole greening movement. Consider the iconic Empire State Building. A $20 million energy-efficiency upgrade, which includes more than 6,000 new windows, will shave $4.4 million annually off the power bill.

That's a payback of 4.5 years. Simply amazing.

Commercial building space in the United States covers a total of 79 billion square feet, and buildings, 80 percent of which are more than a decade old, are one of the leading sources of energy consumption and carbon emissions, said a recent report on commercial building energy efficiency by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research.

The report, "Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Commercial and Public Buildings," estimates potential annual energy savings of more than $41.1 billion if all commercial space built as of 2010 were included in a 10-year retrofit program.
Unfortunately, shredded budgets, the freezing of Property Assessed Clean Energy programs and an economic recession make it harder for businesses, homeowners and landlords to finance the upgrades.

But those who can manage it might enjoy a nice financial return.

(Photo of Morrison Hall by online

Monday, October 25, 2010

Green jobs? Heck yes, workers say

Those on the unemployment line aren't the only ones hoping for a break.

Many who are out of work or have had to take anything the job market has had to offer these past two years are hunting and/or daydreaming about a better position and future. And all this tepid economic news about a slow recovery -- coupled with almost daily reports of growing fallout by shadow foreclosure inventory and about 25 percent of U.S. homeowners under water on their mortgages -- doesn't help.

The recession-plagued economy has elevated interest in so-called green jobs, especially when a number of reports tout the up-and-coming sector's influence. Yet when these forecast jobs materialize and what they will look like remain as hazy as the view from Fresno to the Sierra Mountains. (For those who haven't gotten the opportunity to see what I'm referring to, let's just say it's very hazy and sometimes muddy.)

San Francisco-based research and advisory firm Clean Edge Inc. offers some clarity and digestible information with its report "Clean Tech Job Trends 2010." Company co-founder Ron Pernick, senior editor Clint Wilder and research associate Trevor Winnie summarize and gather data from other reports and bring their own findings to plot out a fairly optimistic view of the future of clean tech in the realms of wind, solar, water, materials and transportation.

"There are many challenges facing the sector, but clean energy and more broadly, clean tech, offer some of the largest growth opportunities on the global economic horizon," they write.

Clean Edge carves the market into four parts: energy, transportation, water and materials. Energy includes everything from wind, biomass and the smart grid. Transporation includes battery technology, trains, hybrids and hydrogen. Water includes recovery and capture, drip irrigation and energy efficient desalination. Materials includes bio-based materials, green chemistry and building materials and reuse and recycling.

The list is diverse and the job requirements even more so. But promise radiates from every sector.

Clean Edge says its research shows that "the solar photovoltaic industry alone now represents approximately 300,000 direct and indirect jobs globally, while the wind-power sector includes more than 500,000 direct and indirect jobs worldwide."

Not bad. It also cites reports that say Ireland, Denmark and Great Britain are on track to receive about 40 percent their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, following the lead of Portugal which reportedly is to reach 45 percent this year.

Of course, all this comes with a downside. Renewables -- at least on their face and not including all the damage done by greenhouse gas emissions -- cost more than fossil fuels. Without government assistance, they can fall flat. For instance, Spain -- a leader in solar -- is reportedly pulling subsidies, or feed-in tariffs, for renewables, threatening the future of many new projects and others countries are doing the same to a lesser degree.

And in the blogosphere, the issue has generated controversy. A comment on a story about incandescent bulb plants disappearing got this from a responder calling him or herself John Galt: "A set of technologies and products created at great cost to solve a problem that had already been solved (generating electricity), at costs considerably higher than the costs of the technologies they seek to supplant? My 12 year old daughter knows that’s a losing business proposition."

Environmental strategist and author Andrew Wilson says the debate over green jobs is far more nuanced than simply focusing on solar panel installers. He writes in that the international job market is facing a choice of decline or prosperity, with fossil fuels comprising the former.

"Oil is basically at peak production globally, and coal plants are nearly impossible to build in the U.S. anymore," Wilson writes. "Even as the world demands more energy, and even as fossil fuel production continues, these companies will continue to get more efficient with labor. So don't count on the fossil guys to create new wealth and jobs."

Wilson and Clean Tech point to a future of green-related jobs over a wide array of industries, linked only by concept. The mainstays, solar and wind, will provide positions but the multiplier effect comes from the spin-offs, the related support and supply jobs.

"There are more subtle shifts in labor going on as companies that did one thing in the old economy are finding their skills useful in the new one," Winston writes. He cites the case of an oil-patch cable company laying undersea electrical transmission lines for offshore wind turbines.

Pernick and Wilder at Clean Edge acknowledge clean tech needs assistance from government. They called for five national policies and initiatives they believe could play a critical role in ensuring clean-tech growth and job creation.

The first is requiring that a certain percentage of power generation come from renewables. The others were supporting green infrastructure development, enforcing emissions rules, establishing green banks, bonds and funds and implementing carbon taxes.

So what's it mean? Clean Tech's report listed the top metro areas with clean tech job activity. At Nos. 1 and 2 were San Francisco and Los Angeles. Boston came in at No. 3, with New York, Denver and Washington, D.C. filling out the top six. And the salaries aren't bad.

"A new green economy is just that -- a whole new economy, with job openings at all skill levels, from truck drivers to inventors of new battery chemistry," Winston says.

And someday soon something might just pop up on for you.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Solar parking meters invade Los Angeles

The next time you pull up to a parking spot in Los Angeles, give the meter a once over.

It could be solar powered.

San Diego-based IPS Group Inc. this week said it has completed installing 10,000 of the new coin and credit-card parking meters throughout the city.

And they appear to be doing a good job. Company officials said Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and Council member Tom LaBonge have announced that the new meters have provided the city with a big boost in revenue -- an additional $230,000 in September. Officials believe the meters could generate an additional $2 million to $2.5 million in revenue annually.

Dave King, IPS president and CEO, said the cities of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Laguna Beach and Manhattan Beach are also installing the meters. In addition, he said Denver, Washington, D.C. and Eugene, Ore. are among the 45 cities in the United States and Canada that have installed IPS meters.

IPS officials said the Los Angeles is in a lease-to-own agreement with the company in the meter program. The meters communicate wirelessly with a centralized management system, enabling the approval of credit and debit cards.

The Portland, Ore. Office of Transportation, which installed its first solar meters in 2002 and upgraded six years later, attributed the increase in revenue -- estimated at 40 percent -- to the meters' ability to accommodate credit and debit cards. Officials said credit/debit cards account for 70 percent of transactions, "which greatly reduces coin collections, saving gas."

Ethan K. of reported that Boston is doing the same thing, saving money through credit card transactions. He reasoned that "emptying 8 million dollars worth of quarters a year can be a grueling task. That is about 32 million quarters a year."

However, Ethan K. also pointed out that "these parking meters will print out little receipts with a time stamp that would be placed on the car's windshield. So my question is, what happens to the receipts that are printed out? Where are those going? Most likely, they will get crumpled up and tossed to the ground."

Well, there's that.

Ethan K. also blogged that merchants where the solar parking meters were excited, and he said it showed added capabilities of solar power. "When people start to realize that solar power is capable of handling small tasks, we can start to change the way things are done. Solar energy may not power entire cities yet, but it sure can handle a credit card processing, parking meter."

I like his thought process. For instance, solar power in small doses could provide juice for quite a bit of tasks, relieving demand on the grid. One thing I just dreamed up is solar-powered remote charging stations for electric cars. That's a little bigger than a parking meter but no less cool.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Biofuels get federal boost

The Obama Administration just lit a fire under the biofuels market with renewal of a program that provides financial assistance to those involved in the industry.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program has been elevated from pilot status and will resume making payments to eligible producers, federal officials said today. Initially authorized in the 2008 Food Conservation and Energy Act, the program is "designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption."

"By producing more biofuels in America, we will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack before the National Press Club today in Washington, D.C.

The National 25x25 Steering Committee, which seeks to get 25 percent of U.S. energy from renewable resources like wind, solar and biofuels by 2025, commended Visack's announcement, according to

The effort is designed to promote production of fuel from renewable sources. Vilsack called domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, a national imperative. "The Obama Administration is aggressively supporting our nation's farmers, ranchers and producers of biofuels as they work to bring greater energy independence to America," Vilsack said.

The program seeks to assist farmers establish perennial biomass crops by offering to cover up to three quarters of production costs and provide payments for up to "five years for annual or non-woody perennial crops and up to 15 years for woody perennial crops."

In addition, the program also provides matching payments to transport materials sold to biomass conversion facilities. The facilities convert the materials into heat, power, biobased products or advanced biofuels.

Vilsack cited a study released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service that said biofuels would benefit the U.S. economy if biofuel production technology continues to advance and petroleum prices continue to rise as projected.

"By substituting domestic biofuels for imported petroleum, the United States would pay less for imports overall and receive higher prices for exports, providing a gain for the economy from favorable terms of trade. Improved technology and increased investment would enhance the ability of the U.S. economy to expand," the report said.

The program is good news for the likes of Sacramento, Calif.-based Pacific Ethanol Inc., which announced this week that it would reopen its Stockton ethanol plant in the next couple of months. California's new budget provided an incentive program that also may allow Pacific Ethanol's Madera County plant to reopen if market conditions allow, said Neil Koehler, president and CEO.

The USDA move also should provide a boost to cellulosic ethanol, algae and other processes under research and development.

Stay Lifted; Energy Commission Moved Forward With Power Upgrade Plan

The California Energy Commission plans to implement a proposed energy upgrade program after an appellate court lifted a restraining order that prevented the agency from distributing $33 million in federal funds.

Commissioners scheduled a hearing today to approve contracts that would implement the Energy Upgrade California Program. That $33 million plan contains, among other provisions, a PACE-like program that falls outside the scope of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

According to federal rules, the money had to be encumbered by the end of today, although the Department of Energy had made it clear it would not immediately rescind the money.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency had recommended against PACE programs, which use property tax assessments to finance energy upgrades on homes and commercial property. The agency believed PACE obligations would be placed ahead of mortgage loans if the owner defaults.

Fresno and Kern counties were part of a PACE pilot program that was put on hold after the Housing Finance Agency issued its "guidance" and after Western Riverside Council of Governments filed a lawsuit claiming its energy-efficiency program was ignored when $33 million in federal funding was distributed.

The California Energy Commission said the council's $20 million bid was disqualified because it ignored energy-efficiency provisions.

Today, an appellate judge lifted a temporary restraining order imposed by a Riverside County judge in connection with the lawsuit. The restraining order had prevented the CEC from spending the remaining $33 million in federal stimulus funds. No comment yet from representatives of Western Riverside.

The appellate court also canceled a Nov. 4 hearing on a possible contempt charge the Riverside County judge imposed against the Energy Commission. Western Riverside County Council of Governments continued to oppose the Energy Commission programs even though the Federal Housing Finance Agency action had effectively suspended its own PACE program.

California's green power movement flexes muscles

California's standing as the nation's clean energy leader received more than a boost of federal cash this week.

Programs by Intel Corp. and San Francisco to purchase energy from renewable sources won national recognition by federal regulators while $300 million in federal funding went to improve and green up aging water and wastewater infrastructure and fund energy efficiency improvements. Cities with projects include Fresno, Merced, Atwater and Tehachapi in the San Joaquin Valley.

The cash will "create jobs now when we need them the most,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement.

Recognition also may serve to bolster the fast and furious growth of the state's clean energy movement. Santa Clara-based chip maker Intel and the green-thinking City by the Bay were among 18 big electricity consumers to get kudos from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership program. Both were recognized at the Renewable Energy Markets Conference this week in Portland, Ore. Other honorees include a New Haven, Conn. printer, global financial services provider BNY Mellon, Kohl’s Department Stores, Motorola and Whole Foods Market.

“We applaud the leadership shown by San Francisco and Intel by ditching polluting power sources and switching to green power,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, in a statement. “Their responsible energy should be a model for all cities and corporations in the fight to solve climate change.”

San Francisco nabbed an EPA Leadership Award for generating its own green power -- more than 25 million kilowatt-hours from solar and biogas. This augments 1.7 billion kilowatt hours of energy the city generates each year through its Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System.

“San Francisco’s commitment to clean energy is producing green jobs and real benefits for our city today,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom called economic advantages of a green economy "very tangible."

Each week appears to bring another announcement of something big in the state -- not to mention elsewhere in the country. In fact, Monday, on the heels of a University of California Merced report that says clean energy could produce 100,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley, came the Southern California Edison announcement that a solar power plant being built near Porterville will create about 125 construction jobs.

The solar array of 29,400 panels is being built on 32 acres of city land next to the Porterville airport. It will generate enough electricity to power 4,000 houses in the area.

This trend could continue. Imagine an increasing number of homes and businesses with solar panels all contributing to a smart electrical grid, generating more power than regional plants. Coupled with fewer fossil-fuel needs, the air could clear.

Innovation is moving forward. Algae may provide fuels and electricity, solar generation could move to any surface imaginable and scientists may still find a way to tap into celestial energy. Of course, pigs could fly. But I prefer the optimistic approach. Offshore wind, for instance, was once a far-fetched idea that's now taking hold off Nantucket and in Lake Erie, not to mention many other locations.

Even oil companies are switching their stance, evolving into energy companies with investments that back up the subtle name/image change.

Whether that translates to tangible jobs remains to be seen.

Newsom is sold on the concept. "We can feel the effects of clean energy in the air we breath; with each solar panel, day-by-day, we’re fueling San Francisco’s transformation into a green economy powered by increasingly clean, renewable energy,” he said.

EPA's profile of Intel provides a clue to corporate America's role. It is one of only 10 organizations in the country to receive the agency's Leadership Award for green power purchases. Intel purchases more than 1.4 billion kilowatt-hours of green power annually, more than 50 percent of its electricity consumption.

Said Marty Sedler, Intel's director of global utilities and infrastructure: “It’s good for our shareholders, customers, employees and the environment.”

A recent report by San Francisco-based Clean Edge Inc. listed California just ahead of Massachusetts in a study listing the top clean energy states. It listed innovation in multiple sectors as a key to developing a green economy. And in another report, the group showed that money invested in clean energy is a good call, creating "two to four jobs for every one job created if the money were spent on fossil fuel industries."

Pushing forward, renewables face gray areas. The future isn't straightforward. A report last year by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory exploring supply and demand for green energy said it's a mixed bag with some oversaturation. "If trends hold, renewable energy deficits are projected for New England, New York, and the Mid-Atlantic areas, with notable surpluses in the Midwest, the Heartland, Texas, and the West," it says.

That just means more need to adopt the concept that green energy is a good thing. Heck, energy independence could be an offshoot. You never know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stimulus Funding Stays Put - For Now

SACRAMENTO - The Energy Commission received a nod from the Department of Energy (DOE) to extend an Oct. 21 deadline for encumbering federal stimulus funds. The Energy Commission explained this new information in a supplement filed today to the California Court of Appeal.

Concerned with the looming federal deadline to encumber the funds, Energy Commission Chairman Karen Douglas spoke with Department of Energy
(DOE) officials and received a verbal assurance from them that they are not contemplating any immediate action to rescind the $33 million.

"I'm extremely grateful that the Department of Energy is giving us additional time to resolve this legal issue that is impeding our efforts to move these federal stimulus funds forward and launch a statewide energy efficiency program," said Karen Douglas, Chairman, Energy Commission. "Although DOE has indicated that they will give California more time, we don't know how much additional time we have. We must resolve this situation quickly to put this money to work for California."

On October 18, the Energy Commission filed a petition in the Court of Appeal asking the court to throw out a temporary restraining order and the contempt charge issued last week by a Riverside Superior Court judge for the Western Riverside Council of Governments.

The federally mandated April 30, 2012 deadline to spend the monies awarded under the Recovery Act cannot be modified and each passing day increases the likelihood that all the contractor and subcontractors will not be able to timely perform all of the tasks required under the Energy Upgrade California contract.

The October 13 temporary restraining order issued by the judge on Western Riverside's behalf blocked the Energy Commission from spending the remaining $33 million in federal stimulus funds for any purpose including other programs.

The judge also issued a possible contempt charge for canceling a solicitation that was rendered obsolete by changes in federal banking regulations. Western Riverside has continued its legal actions against the Commission despite having indefinitely suspended its own residential PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program due to these federal regulatory changes.

Storing Energy Is Key to Renewable Power

Energy storage, as guest columnist Rick Phelps of High Sierra Energy Foundation, noted in this recent blog, is crucial to the whole renewables effort. After all, wind and solar are intermittent, and we need to find ways to economically save the power for later use.

That's where two projects come in. In the first, Colorado-based Ice Energy has received $24 million in investment financing to support its deployment of utility-scale energy-storage projects, including a 53-megawatt project under way with the Southern California Public Power Authority, which includes 12 entities, including Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and municipal utilities in Anaheim, Riverside, Burbank and Glendale.

The joint powers authority delivers electricity to 2 million customers over an area of 7,000 square miles.

In the other, Southern California Edison announced an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy for a $25 million stimulus grant to develop and conduct a comprehensive demonstration of lithium-ion battery storage for energy generated by wind projects.

The DOE funding is one of 32 stimulus grants awarded late last year to demonstrate advanced Smart Grid technologies and integrated systems under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
SCE will use the funds to integrate wind-powered generation from the Tehachapi region in Southern California into the electric grid to help the state meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.

The $25 million DOE grant matches funds totaling $30 million provided by SCE and its partners, including a $1 million grant from the California Energy Commission, resulting in a total project cost of almost $60 million.

Meanwhile, the Ice Energy project would help reduce peak energy demand in California by shifting up to 40% to off-peak periods, which improves the reliability of the power grid. That leads to lower daytime energy consumption, increased efficiency, lower bills and a smaller environmental footprint.

"By using storage to change how - and more importantly when - energy is consumed by air conditioning, we can offset enough peak serve the equivalent of 10,000 homes," said Bill Carnahan, executive director of the power authority.

Ice Energy's system stores energy at thousands of locations and uses Smart Grid technology to intelligently dispatch the energy during peak periods. The $24 million provides the company with working and capital growth. The money came from several investment groups.

Not to be outdone are two utilities in Hawaii, which received a total of $2.1 million in federal stimulus money for energy-storage programs. $1.2 million is going to Maui Electric Co. and $900,000 is earmarked for Hawaii Electric Light Co.

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

Making Our Way To Energy Storage: Jimmy Buffett, The Holy Grail and The Manhattan Project

By Rick Phelps

"cliches. Good ways to say what you mean...mean what you say."

--Jimmy Buffett, 1975

I hadn't thought about the Holy Grail since an old Indiana Jones movie and was a little surprised when someone said that it was becoming a cliche to refer to energy storage as the Holy Grail of renewable energy. My mind immediately recalled the lyrics of an old Buffett song and I realized Jimmy may have it right: say what you mean...mean what you say. When it comes to the future, energy storage IS the Holy Grail. Without storage, flexibility is lost and progress stalls.

But what is energy storage? Storage includes batteries large and small, compressed air, pumped water systems, fly wheels and a host of other ideas, both new and old. All generally work, but the limiting criteria are cost and scale. The cost question is whether it costs less to store a kilowatt than it does to generate it. The scale issue relates to the application, but generally refers to the amount of energy needed to be stored. For example, large lead-acid batteries might work fine for a home with a 4-kilowatt load, but not so well for a utility-sized wind project with a capacity of 25 megawatts.

To put the energy-storage issue in perspective, think about its impact on remote communities in the Eastern Sierra. Electricity could be stored locally and additional distribution lines - at a cost of millions - would be unnecessary.

Private-sector companies, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are making progress on energy-storage cost and scale, but there are not yet any major breakthroughs, and the need for more storage in renewable energy continues to grow.

The quest for this Holy Grail is critical for at least three compelling reasons.

First, two major forms of renewable energy - wind and solar - are intermittent and not necessarily generated at the same time there is electricity demand. Often the actual capacities of wind and solar projects are less than 50 percent of stated capacity and said capacity needs to be backed up from conventional sources such as natural gas or coal. If the energy generated could be stored economically for later use, the renewable projects would be more economically viable as they always "sell" their capacity, and might be able to reduce their invested capital with a more efficient operation. Plus, the land use footprint for wind and solar might be lessened.

Second, if renewable energy is more efficient due to effective storage, there would be less need to ensure that conventional generation capacity is available as backup. Fewer conventional power plants will need to be built and transmission capacity might be reduced if large electricity imports were not necessary to meet the demands of a high-renewable region if production was not up to capacity.

Third, energy storage can be used to make the grid more efficient and optimize transmission and distribution capacity. This gets complicated, but the easiest way to explain it is that if inputs into the grid are predictable, it's a lot easier and economic to manage. In that way, the grid and storage become a lot like our own financial budget - when we know what's coming in, it's a lot easier to manage what goes out.

If energy storage is truly the Holy Grail, where are the speeches demanding that we triple our capacity by 2020, or that the United States become the energy-storage technology center for the world? You don't hear those speeches because energy storage is pretty dull stuff and certainly neither sexy nor photogenic, but if we were to solve the problem, storage would indeed be the Holy Grail, which brings us to The Manhattan Project.

To the baby boom generation, The Manhattan Project is well known, but to those lucky enough to be younger, it's a little more obscure and even ancient history. The Manhattan Project had its start in 1939 when Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt warning him that the Germans were likely to develop a nuclear weapon with great destructive power, and the United States should counter the German effort with its own initiative. President Roosevelt accepted this challenge and committed the government to this endeavor, and by 1942 The Manhattan Project was well under way.

The Project culminated with the successful test of the first nuclear weapon in July 1945 and, following the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the end of World War II. Over 125,000 scientists and staff at no fewer than 30 sites around the country had fathered this technology and spent $22 billion in today's dollars. Solutions were found to problems thought at the time to be unsolvable.

The Manhattan Project is symbolic of what can be accomplished with an all-out effort and many, including Bill Gates, have called for a "Manhattan Project" in renewable energy, regardless of cost or risk. This seems a worthy idea, but wouldn't it make more sense to first solve the "critical-path" issue of energy storage? Otherwise, what are we going to do with all that renewable energy once we have it?

Rick Phelps is Executive Director of the High Sierra Energy Foundation. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cost cutting energy audits to go mainstream?

There are a couple of ways to create wealth: cut costs or make more.

The faltering economy has boosted cost cutting in corporate energy use, leading a growing number of companies to install efficiency retrofits in their commercial and industrial facilities.

Makes sense to save on utility bills. Not every CEO has the money-generating potential of a Jay Z or Warren Buffett.

Colin Davis is watching the trend closely. The founder and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based kWhOURS Inc. just released a new product he hopes will take off. kW-Field is a software-based management platform that enables energy auditors to handle the huge and diverse amounts data collected when they scan big buildings for retrofit opportunities.

Davis said the commercial market has been growing consistently over the past several years. Green, he said, doesn't have to be sexy to make financial sense. The sector has been led by sustainability-minded Walmart.

"You can make great money on efficiency," Davis said.

Investments can pay off in a matter of a few years and cut energy bills from anywhere to 10 percent to 30 percent or more. Energy is a huge cost for many companies.

The energy auditing process is tough. I've done it. Counting thousands of lights is not fun or interesting and remembering whether Room 222 has T12 34 watt 4-lamp fluorescent or already has several 28 watt T8s with digital ballasts is near impossible with a messy notebook.

Davis' product loads all an auditor's information on a laptop, including photos and even audio files. It also stores thermal images, utility bills and "reams of notes on operating conditions, schedules, light levels, air and power quality readings." The software then manipulates the data in whatever format is required.

Davis said in the couple weeks since his product has launched, "a ton of people" have signed up for the two-week trial and bigger players have shown interest.

Other companies venturing into the energy efficiency market offer verification of its big potential.

Eric Wesoff of gave an indication when he wrote of a conversation with Solar City executives at the Solar Power International Show this week in Los Angeles.

Wesoff said Solar City officials told him their company's going big into the audit market, "offering a home tune-up free with every solar lease or solar purchase in California," for a limited time.

And the movement is likely coming to a house near you. In California, for instance, the state is set to adopt rules expanding the scope of the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS. HERS inspectors check the building "envelope," looking for anything that wastes energy.

Davis isn't convinced homeowners will pony up the willpower and cash necessary to make energy audits the next big thing in the residential market.

But who knows? Other players like Recurve and Energy Doctors are betting on the residential sector.

If my experience is any indication, energy upgrades make sense. My new air conditioner coupled with new doors, added attic insulation, improved ductwork and new double-pane treated windows generated low utility bills. I had some envious friends.

But my house is small, 1,278 square feet. I had an evaporative, or "swamp," cooler until this year. It's good for making the house bayou-like when the outside temp heats up past 95 degrees. My neighbor Juan convinced me a new AC wouldn't cost too much more in monthly electricity bills, explaining that he keeps his at 68 degrees and pays less than $300 per month. Juan lays asphalt and says he needs it cold after working on 130-degree blacktop all day. His house is about 200 square feet smaller than mine, however, and has lower ceilings.

The key to lower energy payments is looking at the whole building. One energy-saving element benefits another. Insulated floors, for instance, are a worthy upgrade, said John White, an Internet savvy AC contractor in North Carolina.

"Floor insulation is perhaps the most overlooked yet unbelievably best energy saving investments to be made," White wrote on his site, "An uninsulated 1500 Sq. Ft. floor over a crawl space located in an average climate ... will return about $300 per year savings when insulated to R-19."

It's all about the return. And these days any savings is a very good thing.

Photo: kW-Field software screen grab.

Ethanol Boost Leads To Planned Reopening of Stockton Plant

California's new budget provided a boost to ethanol projects, which means Pacific Ethanol, a producer of ethanol fuel, will reopen a plant in Stockton within 60 days.

The facility in Stockton could reopen in December. A plant in Madera also will reopen if market conditions allow, said Neil Koehler, president and CEO of Pacific Ethanol Inc.

The plants are coming back because the state budget approved Oct. 8 included the California Ethanol Producer Incentive Program, for which the two plants are eligible. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows newer vehicles to use a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. Previously, the mix was limited to 10% ethanol.

Whether that means, however, that more ethanol will wind up in the mix remains to be seen, as this report says. The vagaries of corn crop and prices also play strong roles.

The Stockton plant has a capacity of 60 million gallons. In Madera, the capacity is 40 million gallons. Koehler did not say how many jobs would be created when the plant reopens.

The company recently restructured financially after filing for bankruptcy protection, which allowed it to sell warrants and raise $35 million in cash, sell minority interest in an energy company for $18 million and retire $17 million in debt.

A dramatic drop in ethanol prices led to the bankruptcy filing, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Edison Solar Project Generates 125 Jobs in Porterville

On the heels of a UC Merced report that says clean energy could produce 100,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley comes this announcement from Southern California Edison: A solar power plant being built near Porterville will create about 125 construction jobs.

The solar array of 29,400 panels is being built on 32 acres of city land next to the Porterville airport. It will generate enough electricity to power 4,000 houses. in the area.

The installation joins SCE power plants online in Fontana and Chino, both in the Inland Valley portion of Southern California, and six others under construction in the same region. Over the next five years, the utility plans to install 250 million watts of solar power at 100 sites. Its solar program could create 1,200 jobs, the utility says.

The San Joaquin Valley is considered ripe for renewable-energy projects and research. Ample sunshine; abundant land - much of it out-of-production farmland; proximity to transmission lines; fewer concerns over endangered species; and a strong labor force are some of assets.

In addition, high power bills and low incomes make the Valley a natural for energy-efficiency programs.
(map from

Friday, October 15, 2010

Valley Receives $4 million Regional Planning Grant

A regional effort led by the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley has landed a $4 million Sustainable Communities federal grant to develop smart-growth principles in the eight-county region.

The Partnership worked with representatives of all eight San Joaquin Valley counties to apply for a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant from Housing and Urban Development. The Valley's proposal, called Smart Valley Places, was one of 45 applications totaling nearly $100 million approved nationwide - and was one of only two awarded in California. It also was the largest award in California.

Fourteen cities within the eight counties cooperated with California State University, Fresno; the Regional Policy Council (which consists of councils of government for all eight counties); and several non-profit organizations to develop a regional plan for smart growth in the Valley.

The HUD Sustainable Communities program will support regional efforts across the country that connect housing with good jobs, high-quality schools and transportation.

"Regions that embrace sustainable housing communities will have a built-in competitive edge in attracting jobs and private investment," said Shaun Donovan, secretary of HUD. "Rather than sticking to the old Washington playback of dictating how communities can invest their grants, HUD's application process encouraged creative, locally focused thinking."

The grants are part of a President Obama plan that brings together several federal agencies to help local communities create better housing, more efficient and reliable transportation and reinforce existing investment, according to this press release from HUD.

The Valley plan was approved despite strong competition. "The response to this program was huge. We were inundated with applications from every state and two territories - from central cities to rural areas and tribal governments," said Shelley Poticha, director of HUD's new office of Sustainable Housing and Communities.

The other award in California was $1.5 million to Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

PACE Energy-Efficiency Program In Tug of War

Cutting energy use is akin to a pay raise. When landlords and homeowners cut power consumption, they reduce costs. And, as we know, there are only two ways to increase revenue: make more money or reduce expenses.

And here in the San Joaquin Valley - where summer temperatures can climb past 110, power bills are heart-stopping high, unemployment exceeds Appalachia rates and incomes are low - the effects of a lower power bill are magnified.

So, it is particularly maddening to watch the pitched battle around Property Assessed Clean Energy programs, otherwise known as PACE. With them, property owners can finance energy-efficiency upgrades through a line item on their property tax bill, basically an assessment.

Fresno and Kern counties were in line to be pilot cities in a PACE program until the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, decided they were too risky for lenders - even though studies show a low default rate.

And now comes the Western Riverside Council of Governments, which filed a lawsuit claiming its energy-efficiency program was ignored when $33 million in federal funding was distributed. The California Energy Commission said the council's $20 million bid was disqualified because it ignored required energy-efficiency provisions.

Thursday, a Riverside County Superior Court Judge issued a temporary restraining order against the California Energy Commission, essentially blocking it from distributing money and stopping PACE. Now some would say the decision is moot because the Federal Housing Finance Agency's opposition to the program had already effectively suspended things anyway.

But that leaves the Energy Commission with $33 million worth of unspent money, which must be distributed by Oct. 21. The state has come up with a new energy-efficiency program called Energy Upgrade California, but the Riverside judge, according to this account in the Los Angeles Times, (which contains a link to transcripts of the Thursday court hearing) said it is similar to PACE and set a Nov. 4 hearing to consider making the temporary injunction permanent.

The judge also says the Energy Commission could be held in contempt of a July ruling that prohibits issuing PACE money unless Riverside County's bid was considered, according to this story in the Sacramento Business Journal.

But the Energy Commission is arguing that the Riverside County lawsuit should be dismissed since the Federal Housing Finance Agency's ruling put the kibosh on Riverside County's own PACE program too.

"There is absolutely no basis for this order - this litigation centers on a solicitation that the Energy Commission has canceled," said Karen Douglas, chairman of the CEC. "Western Riverside's lawsuit threatens to derail a comprehensive statewide jobs program by holding up $33 million in stimulus funds - funds that would benefit the entire state, including citizens of Riverside County."

So, there we are. Things are murky and in limbo. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Study: San Joaquin Valley Has Potential for 100,000 Local Clean Energy Jobs

Renewable-energy projects slated for the San Joaquin Valley could bring more than 100,000 jobs to the area, according to a new study by UC Merced Professor Dr. Shawn Kantor.

The study, "The Economic Opportunity from Clean Energy Jobs in California's San Joaquin Valley," calculates job creation from two of the Valley's most significant industries including planned and pending-approval renewable energy projects and the high-speed rail system. Jointly, these two industries are expected to create as many as 103,510 new production and construction jobs in the San Joaquin Valley. Production jobs are defined in the study as long-term, while construction jobs are limited-term.

"Taken together, clean energy and high speed rail have the potential to fundamentally change the trajectory of economic development and job creation in the San Joaquin Valley," said Kantor, professor and County Bank Endowed Chair in Economics at University of California Merced, author of the study. "The San Joaquin Valley is keeping pace with other regions by creating just as many jobs to support a clean energy economy in California."

The report, issued by the California Business Alliance for a Green Economy, explains that the San Joaquin Valley is well positioned to attract jobs in the clean energy sector – three jobs for every one job created by the high-speed rail system. The transition to cleaner energy sources is expected to bring economic growth to the region, supporting cleantech as well as traditional business.

Valley renewable energy projects analyzed in the study include Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) in Kern County, Bioenergy in Fresno, Madera Power in Madera, DTE Energy Services in San Joaquin County, Eurus San Drag in Kings County, and SPS Alpaugh in Tulare County, among others.

"This report illustrates that a healthy and prosperous future for the Valley, and all of California, depends upon a clean, green and efficient economy," said Susan Frank, coordinator for the California Business Alliance for a Green Economy. "As these Valley-based jobs are created, that will translate into a boost in the bottom line for the many small, mainstream businesses providing products and services for the clean tech sector."

According to the author, the major economic waves that have swept across California in recent decades, such as biotechnology and computer technology, have largely bypassed the San Joaquin Valley. Meanwhile, the emerging clean technology sector is creating jobs at an equal pace with other regions of the state.

For example, statewide employment in clean energy grew from 117,000 to 159,000 from 1995 to 2008 (36%), while San Joaquin Valley employment increased by 48% over the same period (Next 10: Many Shades of Green, 2009). Further, the San Joaquin Valley is expected to produce 10% of California's renewable energy within the next ten years once all pending biomass, solar, hydrogen and wind energy projects come online, with the majority of job creation coming from solar.

"The best part about it is that the renewable energy industry is bringing jobs to our community. These jobs are coming to California because of clean energy policies that make us a leader in the nation," said Tom Cotter, Central California sales manager for Real Goods Solar and member of the California Business Alliance for a Green Economy. "In fact, Fresno is well positioned to be a leader in this effort. We have skilled workers, university resources and an unlimited supply of entrepreneurial spirit."

Cotter is co-founder of Green Fresno and is the organizer of Fresno Solar Tour, part of the National Solar Tour, the largest annual grassroots solar event in history.

Based on projections from the California High-Speed Rail Authority, an estimated 24,000 construction jobs will be created in the San Joaquin Valley to build the rail network in the region. The high-speed rail network and strong renewable electricity standards (33% by 2020) are included in the plan to meet the goals of the state's landmark clean energy law (AB 32).

The report is available online at

The California Business Alliance for a Green Economy is a network of more than 930 small, mainstream businesses and business associations around the state who believe that a healthy and prosperous future for California depends on a clean, green and efficient economy. The California Business Alliance for a Green Economy supports the implementation of California's clean energy policies, including AB 32, through the adoption of standards and programs by the California Air Resources Board and other public agencies.

Visit us at

Contact: BreAnda Northcutt, (916) 446-1955

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Supporters of PACE Programs Fighting Back

Local governments across the country are picking up the PACE in their efforts to continue a popular method of financing energy-efficiency upgrades. Meanwhile, California's governor signed a law making it easier to fund such programs should they get started again.

Leon County, Fla., is the latest local government to file a lawsuit to allow jurisdictions to participate in Property Assessed Clean Energy programs, which allow property owners to finance energy improvements through a line item on their property tax bills.

PACE-type programs were stymied when the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, recommended against them, saying they are risky.

That "guidance" essentially stalled PACE just as many programs, including one that featured Fresno and Kern counties as test cases, were rolling out. The state of California, several counties and cities and consumer groups filed legal complaints to jump-start the financing measures. Leon County filed its lawsuit against the Federal Housing Finance Agency on Oct. 8.

In a related matter, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill allowing the California Public Employees Retirement System, the State Compensation Insurance Fund and the Pooled Money Investment Board to invest in local bonds to fund PACE programs, which could have the effect of lowering interest rates on PACE financing.

The new bill, AB 1873, will likely sit on the shelf until the PACE issues are resolved. Supporters of PACE say the program allows homeowners and businesses to cut their energy costs, would create thousands of jobs for contractors and help the environment.

Leon County Attorney Herbert A. Thiele said county officials hope the lawsuits will lead to a resolution. "It is our hope that Congress will act to resolve the FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s interpretations so that we can continue to offer LEAP (Leon Energy Assistance Program, its version of PACE)."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Solar Proposals Could Generate 8,000 Construction Jobs

The experts aren't kidding when they say the deserts of Southern California could be one of the largest solar-energy sites in the world.

Nine large-scale solar thermal projects that have or are to go before the California Energy Commission by year's end could produce 4,100 megawatts of power (by some estimates, enough to accommodate 4.1 million homes) and 8,000 construction and 1,000 operational jobs, state officials said.

They would also boost California's renewable energy efforts, and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. The state wants utilities to have renewables produce 33% of their power by 2033.

"These approved solar projects continue to demonstrate the importance of harnessing the power of the sun for clean, renewable energy for California's communities," Energy Commission Chairman Karen Douglas said in a prepared statement.

Some of the solar projects stem from a partnership between California and the Department of the Interior (DOI). In October 2009, California was the first state to sign a memo of understanding with the DOI to develop long-term renewable energy plans through state and federal permitting processes that can receive 30% federal tax credits under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

On Sept. 29, two of the largest plants - totaling almost 1,000 megawatts in Riverside and Imperial counties - were licensed. They had to be approved before Dec. 31 to qualify for federal funds.

The Riverside County development would use parabolic trough technology, where parabolic mirrors are used to heat a transfer fluid which is then used to generate steam. Electricity is produced from the steam expanding through steam turbine generators.

Its counterpart in Imperial County would use solar dish Stirling systems, or "SunCatchers", consisting of a solar receiver heat exchanger and a closed-cycle, high efficiency engine designed to convert solar power to rotary power, then driving an electrical generator to produce electricity.

Not to be outdone, the sun-drenched Central Valley of California also is bursting with solar-energy proposals. Supporters say double-digit unemployment, ample sun resources, acres of out-of-production farmland and proximity to the power grid help make the region ideal for an emerging solar industry.

The proposals come at a time when the solar market in some parts of the United States is expanding, but also facing criticism that solar is too expensive. In California, out-of-state oil companies are financing Prop 23 which, if approved, would suspend the state's landmark global warming law.

Still, photovoltaic installations are up 55% from 2009, and on track to reach a record in 2010, according to a new report by Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

California and New Jersey were the largest state markets in the first half of the year. The second half could be even stronger. "Many projects will rush to commence construction in order to meet eligibility deadlines for the cash grant program, and some of these will ultimately be connected to the grid within the year," according to the report.

More than 120,000 systems were connected to the grid in the United States through June, including 100,000 residential systems. Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey and New York each installed more than 1,000 systems in the first six months of 2010.

California also has attracted billions in clean technology investment capital. In the first half of 2010, it received 40% of total global investment. Since 2006, it has received $11.6 billion, or 24% of the total, according to "2010 California Green Innovation Index" put out by a nonprofit research group, Next 10.

However, not all is rosy. In addition to the threat posed by Prop. 23, which goes before voters next month, some green -energy companies are electing to leave California or setting up operations in other states or countries, according to this report by Joseph Vranich, an Irvine-based relocation adviser.

(Photo by


Green Building Council Urges “No” Vote on Prop 23

The Central California chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council believes passage of Prop. 23, the so-called “dirty energy proposition,” will devastate the emerging green building and technology industry in the state.

The chapter recommends a “no” vote on the legislation, which would suspend AB 32, California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, until the state’s unemployment rate stays below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters – which has happened only three times since 1980.

Texas-based oil companies and a large coal company are pouring millions into the Prop. 23 efforts. The Green Building Council, however, believes the proposed legislation, which will be on the Nov. 2 ballot, will:

· Stifle a blossoming green industry in California. Since 2005, green jobs have grown 10 times faster than other industries. There are currently 500,000 green jobs in the state, of which 68,000 are in construction – an industry that has been hit hard in the recession;
· Put California’s new green building code at risk;
· Threatens green building and investment. The state has 12,000 clean-tech firms and received $10.4 billion in investment capital between 2006 and 2010.

The Central California chapter is urging members to get out and vote and to spread the message to 20 colleagues or friends through e-mail, USGBC CAC or StopDirtyEnergyProp on Facebook.

The “No on Prop 23” campaign has strong bi-partisan support. Both gubernatorial candidates, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, also oppose the legislation, as do many business, health, labor and environmental organizations.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Solar project under construction near Avenal

One of the largest proposed solar photovoltaic facilities in California is getting under construction near Avenal in Kings County.

When operating at full capacity - possibly as early as 2011 - the project, which is actually three separate components known as Avenal Park, Sun City and Sand Drag, will generate 45 megawatts of power, enough to power at least 36,000 homes, according to developers Eurus Energy America and NRG Solar.

The electricity produced by thin film solar panels will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric, and advance the state's objective of achieving 33% renewable power generation by 2020. "The Avenal projects are just the first of many utility-scale PV solar projects that we expect to be developing, building and owning in the state of California," said Mark E. Anderson, president of Eurus Energy America in San Diego.

About 200 people are expected to be employed during the construction process, according to Sierra2thesea, an online news blog that covers the Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley. The project is one of a long line of solar proposals for the Valley, which has ample sun resources and vacant land, and is ideally suited for an emerging solar industry.

(Photo of NRG CEO Dave Crane by

Friday, October 8, 2010

Commercial buildings could be the next frontier in energy savings

Commercial buildings present a relatively untapped frontier when it comes to energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction potential.

Corporations like Walmart, which last month rolled out its solar initiative to add solar generating systems to another 20 to 30 sites in California and Arizona and has as its goal sustainability, remain a minority. Many buildings remain unchanged, sucking up just as much or more energy -- and costing more because of steady utility rate increases -- as they did when they were built.

Commercial building space in the United States covers a total of 79 billion square feet, and buildings, 80 percent of which are more than a decade old, are one of the leading sources of energy consumption and carbon emissions, said a recent report on commercial building energy efficiency by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research.

The report, "Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Commercial and Public Buildings," estimates potential annual energy savings of more than $41.1 billion if all commercial space built as of 2010 were included in a 10-year retrofit program.

Reduced energy consumption isn't the only benefit.

"Commercial buildings use almost 20 percent of all energy in the United States and are a significant contributor to GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. From a policy perspective, energy efficiency in buildings is the most lucrative potential source of GHG reductions," wrote analyst Levin Nock and Clint Wheelock, Pike Research managing director.

It's not cheap. Pike Research estimates that such retrofit programs would cost $22.5 billion annually over the 10-year period.

Often, however, the return on investment is near immediate. And resources are availble.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy and its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory today released a report explaining how to achieve up to 50 percent energy savings in quick-service restaurants. PNNL, in Richland, Wash., my old stomping grounds, said the report is expected to provide the basis for a series of how-to guides "that show architects, engineers and building designers how to achieve above-code exemplary energy performance for buildings."

The fixes recommended for fast food restaurants were:
  • Ultra-efficient cooking appliances that reduce kitchen exhaust air flow.
  • An optimized HVAC system configuration.
  • Efficient exterior and interior lighting with dimming controls in the dining room.
  • Enhanced insulation, cool roofs and high-performance window glazing.

DOE is working with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the American Institute of Architects, the Illuminating Engineering Society and the U.S. Green Building Council to develop and publish the reports.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money also is finally flowing into California and other states across the nation for energy efficiency retrofits to municipal buildings. My outfit, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, is working with 39 cities and counties to administer Energy Effciency and Conservation Block Grant allocations to improve lighting, air conditioning, pumps and other building components.

We're about to unleash crews to make about $4 million worth of changes. The difference will be immediate for small cities, in some cases saving jobs. The San Joaquin Valley, like many regions in the counrty, was hard hit by the recession and property tax declines emptied municipal coffers, forcing jurisdictions to cut staffing to the bone.

That economy certainly isn't helping the private sector. About the last thing anybody wants to do is put money into new lights or HVAC systems, much less window glazing or added insulation.

“The current financial crisis has had a significant dampening effect on property owners’ investments in their properties," said Pike Research's Wheelock. "Financing for such projects is scarce, and the limited investment in building efficiency is not keeping pace with the growing national demand for energy.”

Photo: San Francisco Union Square.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Top 15 Cities for Green Jobs

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Silicon Valley and the rest of the Bay area is the nation's No. 1 spot for clean- energy jobs. But did you know that Houston, where oil runs deep, and the Rust Belt region of the Midwest are making huge strides in green energy and alternative fuels?

A new report by Clean Edge Inc., a research firm devoted to clean energy, notes that green jobs are represented in dynamic industry sectors, such as electric vehicles, energy storage, advanced lighting, building materials and the energy grid.

Silicon Valley continues to lead in the U.S. as Cisco, Google, Intel and others get on the bandwagon. Los Angeles is second, with Boston, New York and Denver rounding out the top five.

Houston, which ranked 15th last year, is now eighth, courtesy of biofuels and wind energy. Plus, Houston's city government is the nation's top municipal buyer of green power. San Diego also has made strides from 11th to seventh, thanks to biofuels.

Worldwide, clean-energy jobs exceed 3 million, according to sources cited in the study, and that number is likely to grow as other countries ramp up their green presence. China, South Korea, Japan and other nations are the heavy hitters in clean jobs.

Those countries "are hiring thousands of factory workers to crank out solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, and a wide-range of wind turbine components. At the same time, traditional European clean-tech leaders like Germany and Denmark continue to expand...," the report said.

The United States, thanks to a significant infusion from President Obama's stimulus package, is advancing as well.

In Colorado, Abound Solar is retrofitting a closed automotive transmission factory near Kokomo, Ind., into a photovoltaic plant thanks to a state, county and federal incentives. Nine advanced electric-vehicle battery plants have opened in the United States, with much of the $2.4 billion boost in that sector headed to Michigan.

But political and economic considerations could slow U.S. progress. The report says that feed-in tariffs, which offer stable payment to power generators through long-term purchase agreements, could significantly boost clean energy initiatives in this country.
Those programs are popular in Germany, Canada and Britain, but haven't caught on big in the U.S. (Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District recently created one). The report also warns of clean-tech jobs potentially moving south of the border to Mexico, and suggests that more efforts in this nation should be directed to the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency.

"Eager supporters of clean energy, however, sometimes overlook the easy efficiency fixes and instead channel enthusiasm - and dollars - toward the generation of renewable energy.
The report ends with five initiatives that its authors should be put into place:

  • Deploy aggressive national renewable standards with teeth;

  • Support development of green infrastructure;

  • Implement and enforce efficiency, fuel and emissions standards;

  • Establish green banks, bonds and funds;

  • Implement carbon taxes.

Oh, I almost forgot. Here are the top 15 U.S. regions for clean-energy jobs:

  1. San Francisco Bay area

  2. Los Angeles-Long Beach

  3. Boston

  4. New York

  5. Denver

  6. Washington D.C.

  7. San Diego

  8. Houston

  9. Chicago

  10. Austin

  11. Seattle

  12. Atlanta

  13. Dallas'

  14. Portland

  15. Sacramento