Friday, April 29, 2011

Another Valley Agriculture Operation Tapping Into Renewable Energy

The San Joaquin Valley is home to one of the nation's largest cheese manufacturers. And like many other agriculture operations in California, it is going solar.

Read about it here in the Merced Sun-Star.

The San Joaquin Valley has some of the most efficient and productive growers and food manufacturers in the world. The Hilmar cheese facility is just the latest of those to turn to renewable energy sources to help power their facilities. Here is more on that trend.

Progressive farmers are another reason why the San Joaquin Valley can be a showcase for clean energy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Developers face significant headwinds as they seek offshore clean energy

Offshore gales beckon kilowatts and profit.

However, building wind turbines or wave energy devices in an environment where weather regularly whips white caps to a frenzy and drives commercial fishermen to safe harbor brings higher development costs and technological challenges.

Those are not expected to dissuade a new generation of clean energy prospectors that is projected to install between 58 and 71 gigawatts of generation capacity, representing $52.2 billion to $78.6 billion in power production, by 2017 worldwide, according to a new study by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research. A gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts or enough to power about 330,000 homes.

On another promising but more technologically uncertain front, Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies Inc. plans to install a specially designed buoy to extract energy from waves off Reedsport, Ore., reported Ocean Power Magazine (no relation). The company is awarding four contracts to Oregon companies in connection with the manufacture and deployment of its PB150 PowerBuoy.

The magazine reported that the new contracts brings the investment by the company into the local economy to more than $6 million, "creating or saving up to 100 manufacturing and marine services jobs at the four companies and their suppliers."

In offshore wind, most of the development will take place in Europe with the United States accounting for between 2.9 and 6.2 gigawatts, said study authors Peter Asmus, Pike senior analyst, and Brittany Gibson, Pike research associate.

"The United Kingdom is projected to lead the world with $12 billion by 2017," they wrote. Asia won't be far behind.

The UK's leadership is no surprise as the British have been harvesting wind energy offshore for the past decade and are not expected to slow down. The country is also encouraging development of wave energy off the shores of Scotland.

But expect China, a big mover in clean energy from development of solar installations to the manufacturing dominance of solar panels, to make a major push.

The United States isn't taking any of this sitting down. The U.S. government has unleashed a relative torrent of measures to accelerate President Obama's clean energy objectives. The president this year announced the goal of generating 80 percent of the nation's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said offshore wind received the coordinated might of the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Department of Energy to "support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority wind energy areas in the mid-Atlantic that will spur rapid, responsible development of this abundant renewable resource."

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the approval for construction of the Cape Wind Energy Project off Nantucket in April, calling it the nation's first offshore operation. Construction could begin later this year.

Salazar also said the government is working to synchronize research and development initiatives with "more efficient, forward-thinking planning" for offshore wind, committing up to $50.5 million in project funding.

Wind turbines are getting bigger and more efficient. Innovations in design are expected. Still, transmission lines remain a major hurdle and cost, especially offshore.

But Google is a believer. Its Atlantic Wind Connection transmission line will stretch 350 miles off the coast from New Jersey to Virginia. Officials say the line will link  6,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines, or thequivalent of 60 percent of wind energy brought on line in 2009 and "enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households."

New legislation, committees bode well for clean energy in Calif.

It may not be widely visible, but the clean-energy movement in California is starting to percolate.

A new law that sets a 33% renewable-energy standard by 2020 is the biggie, but other efforts are under way too. Here are a few examples:

  • There's a new Clean California campaign that aims to seeks to create more local renewable-energy projects and improve access to the grid;

  • A new bill that provides money for green-education academies;

  • Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez of Coachella has been appointed to lead a new committee that will focus on a renewable-energy economy in rural California;

  • And progress of Perez-authored legislation that speeds siting of clean-energy projects and extends an incentive program for new technologies.

    The Clean California campaign, announced this week, is headed by a broad coalition of businesses and organizations that believes renewable energy can become a significant industry in the Golden State. The program calls for implementing polices that simplify and accelerate the process, and bring in investment.

    “CLEAN Programs result in new clean energy projects on the ground right now,” said Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and Special Advisor to former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “CLEAN projects are integrated into existing buildings and disturbed lands in our communities, without delays for new transmission lines or major environmental reviews."

    Perez says green energy can be an economic game changer in rural areas such as Imperial County and the San Joaquin Valley. "It is clear that renewable energy will play a significant role in the state's economic recovery," the assemblyman said. "Yet, rural communities face unique challenges related to infrastructure, workforce, and capacity that may impede their ability to aggressively pursue renewable-energy opportunities."

    Perez is in the process of selecting Assembly colleagues for the new committee, which he says will recommend policy for rural regions. Meanwhile, Gov. Brown has signed a bill by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg that redirects $8 million from a California Energy Commission special fund to finance green jobs programs for high school students.

    It remains to be seen how all this shakes out, but it is easy to be excited about the prospects of a new industry in California - one that could be rooted in large part in the San Joaquin Valley.

    There are few places in the state more suited for green energy. The west side of the Valley has thousands of acres of former farmland ideally situated for solar and biofuel projects. The Sierra Club supports the installation of solar there because the region does not have the desert tortoise and habitat issues of the Mojave Desert, where at least 11 large-scale solar projects are proposed.

    In addition, the west side of the Valley is more accessible to the power grid, and is close to major population centers that consume gobs of electricity. The San Joaquin Valley has the potential to be to clean energy what Silicon Valley is to high technology.

  • Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    Greening And Cleaning The Great State Of California

    A new campaign to increase renewable energy and beef up the transmission grid has been launched in response to Gov. Brown's efforts to green California.

    The program, called Clean California, is in response to Brown's call for 12,000 megawatts of clean local energy by 2020, according to the initiative's Web site. Among its objectives: make it easier to site projects, contract for power purchases and connect to the grid.

    The group contends that existing state policies support large-scale power plants far from communities and local rooftop solar systems, but not necessarily in some other good locations such as landfills, parking lots, commercial property and farms. Clean California wants to help fill that gap using, among other things, feed-in tariffs, according to this story by grist.

    The cited benefits: job creation, more private investment and economic boost to local and state budgets.

    An impressive coalition of organizations and businesses has signed on as partners in the Clean California effort. It includes the Los Angeles Business Council; University of California, Berkeley; U.S. Green Building Council; and Westinghouse Solar.

    Also included is Sol Orchard, an independent power producer with a presence in the San Joaquin Valley. Headed by Jeff Brothers, the company's most recent project helped a Hanford pistachio grower, Nichols Farms, use solar power to power 70% of his farming operations.

    “A CLEAN Program will give new companies like Sol Orchard the market certainty to rapidly install more clean energy projects and hire more workers in local communities,” Brothers says on the Clean California Web site.

    How far the clean-energy movement gets in California remains to be seen, but Brown recently signed a law setting a 33% renewable energy standard, and pressure to do more is coming from big business, the military and even professional sports.

    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Fresno State University Is Showcase of Green, According to College Guide

    With a world-famous water institute and the largest solar-paneled parking structure on any U.S. college campus, California State University, Fresno, is a showcase for clean and renewable energy.

    As a result, it has appeared for the first time in Princeton Review's Guide to 311 green colleges in the United States and Canada. The guide does not rank the campuses, but lists them alphabetically with highlights of their green features.

    Princeton Review noted the energy-efficiency features of the new Henry Madden Library, the solar parking structure and the innovation of the International Center for Water Technology, which, among other things, has helped Fresno State slash irrigated water use by one third.

    "California State University, Fresno, is an impressive green campus in an impressive green state," the review states.

    California State University, Stanislaus, and University of The Pacific also are featured in the guide. The publication highlights the Master's in Ecology and Sustainability at CSU Stanislaus, and the $4 million that faculty at UOP in Stockton received for environmental research since 2005.

    Other college campuses profiled in the guide are Cal Poly, Pomona (methane from a landfill helps power the school); California College of The Arts in San Francisco (70% waste-diversion rate); Chico State (Sierra Club's "cool list"); California State universities Humboldt and Monterey Bay (both have revolving energy funds) and several University of California campuses, including Riverside (Center for Environmental Research & Technology and Center for Sustainability & Suburban Development.)>

    My Alma mater, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, was not featured in this year's guide, but University of Oregon (Sustainability Leadership Academy), where my daughter is an environmental studies major, was included.

    Image by

    California's Emerging Solar Desert

    The desert region of Southern California could become one of the largest concentrations of solar projects in the world if proposals move forward to the action stage.

    As a result, the Palm Springs Desert Sun - where I worked as a reporter in the mid-1980s - published an impressive set of stories on the pros and cons of the proposals. Below are links to the stories - and to a map detailing the location and scope of each project, along with employment and tax revenue estimates.

    It should be noted that the San Joaquin Valley, a resource-rich region from Stockton to the foot of the Grapevine, also is considered prime territory for solar-generating projects. Like the desert, it has lots of sun and land, but the west side of the Valley, where much of the former farmland lies fallow, doesn't have the same ecological and environmental concerns, and is more accessible to the grid.

    Whereas, the arid regions of eastern Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties could become a Solar Desert, the San Joaquin Valley has the potential to become known as Solar Valley.

    Ivanpah solar project image by

    How can you really measure Top 10 greenest states?

    On the eve of Earth Day, I started reading a story in the Huffington Post declaring the top 10 greenest states.

    I'll get into what they are in a minute. What immediately got me are what I considered a couple glaring omissions and imagining how it felt being labeled the worst. The ranking organization, 24/7 Wall St., gave Ohio the No. 1 worst ranking for coming in dead last for alternative energy with 0.7 percent coming from green sources and landing near the bottom for toxic waste creation and carbon footprint.

    Ohio residents likely aren't pleased. In fact, the state appears to be working hard to burnish its green graces. Last year the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News quoted Gov. Ted Strickland as pledging that the state "would surpass global competitors" with its aggressive "advanced energy requirements" and innovations. The story followed the official opening of Dayton Power & Light’s 1.1 megawatt Yankee Solar Array and mentioned another 12 megawatt plant installed by Juwi Solar Inc.

    But it's all in how statistics are measured.

    Whenever there's something about the top anything, somebody's got a beef with it. For instance, my beautiful kinda hometown of Fresno (I live in neighboring Clovis) usually gets labeled No. 1 on low-brow lists, like crime and poverty. Yet, Fresno was No. 7 on a list of hottest U.S. cities, for temperature, not coolness. However, I can't recall the source as it was emailed with a group of other lists from friends.

    And I didn't see California anywhere on either 24/7's greenest or least green states list. Keith Matheny of the Desert Sun in Palm Springs wrote of a robust collection of approved projects in Southern California totalling 3,600 megawatts and another 2,173 megawatts worth "in the permitting pipeline." Pretty impressive stuff.

    And the state has quite a few more. Sure it's got its other issues, like water and too many houses, but it's also got the only measure in the country requiring that a third of its power come from alternative sources by 2020.

    But this green Huff Post left California somewhere in the middle. Here are the greenest states: Starting from No. 10, it goes Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, Maine and No. 1 Vermont.

    I have no problems with any of the listed states. I mean Vermont is beautiful. It has mountains, forested views and communities that look as if they haven't changed in 75 years. It's green and gorgeous. I never got as far as Maine, but I've seen photographs.

    And the rest are pretty too. Although, I don't get Nevada. The Vegas AC bill certainly must challenge any green activity.

    But how the heck would I know? The metrics used by 24/7 Wall St. show measurable data. For instance, No. 4 greenest Nevada gets 9.4 percent of its power from alternative energy, its toxic waste production is relatively small and its carbon footprint ranks 12th in the nation.

    The group says it "examined energy consumption, pollution problems and state energy policies with the help of industry experts, government databases and research reports." 24/7 used 27 categories and data from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Energy Information Administration, U.S.Department of Energy and other federal and independent organizations.

    One reader of the Huffington repost wasn't convinced, saying that Texas is No. 1 in wind power. My grandfather in law would say when the wind picked up in San Antonio that that little barbed wire fence between his massive state and Canada wasn't doing much.

    I'd one up Texas, as Alaskans often do, by saying the biggest state in the union may not measure up in the metrics used by 24/7 but it does have one thing going for it. It's green. It has more green, even in winter, than teeny Vermont. And it stomps even larger but still small Maine.

    The now expired 50-year contracts with the pulp mills in Southeast Alaska didn't, try as they might, deforest the Tongass National Forest. I recall a trip in a Dehavilland Beaver, soaring above the patchworks of clearcuts for an Anchorage Times story on logging and its effects on the environment and economy.

    I'll never forget the experience, and I could immediately see why early on how federal planners thought the timber would never end. The Beaver on pontoons is an awesome plane. We landed at a recent cut in the middle of nowhere, north of Ketchikan (where my great-grandfather married his wife) and got out, wading to shore. I had to touch the scads of rings reflected in the stump of an old growth evergreen and got sap all over my hand and subsequently my pants and notebook.

    And I remember growing up in Fairbanks with a band of off-the-grid hippies whose motto was do more with less. Now it's called carbon footprint reduction. But that's green. I'm sure Texas has its own stories, as does Ohio.

    I'd like to see more of those green stories. And it needn't be anti-growth. Logging can be sustainable. Wind can be harvested as can the sun. We'll still need oil, but the cost is climbing. The price of carbon is likely to be tallied as its effects become more visible, making the alternatives to fossil fuels that much more approachable.

    At, a site dedicated to reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a recent post was titled "Celebrating our victories." It mentioned this pearl of wisdom: "One of the biggest global warming myths is that nothing is happening to stop it."

    Work to improve the economy and environment is going on in all 50 states. Some of it just doesn't register right away.

    Photo: Juwi Solar Inc. plant in Ohio.

    Grants For Urban Greening Projects Available

    Urban greening takes a variety of forms - from green rooftops such as what we blogged about here to an urban-greening plan such as that being developed by Alameda officials - and is growing as governments and people become more interested in clean energy, sustainable living and the effects of greenhouse gases.

    Local governments and other organizations interested in funding urban-greening programs might be able to capitalize on grants that are accepting applications through May 15.

    More information can be found by clicking on this link:

    image by

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Electric vehicles are coming: Recharge with 5 choices

    The MiEV is coming to town.

    Translation: Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. is offering up its Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle (amazing name, I know) for pre-order starting April 22, Earth Day.

    This vehicle, like Nissan's Leaf, is all electric all the time. The only other full-on electric car commercially available is the Tesla Roadster, which will set you back about $100,000. Tesla's sleek Model S sedan, which also boasts a 300 mile charge life and claims zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds, costs about half that and comes out next year.

    The $41,000 Chevy Volt is also on the streets. One was spotted by my co-worker Sandy Nax recently at a Kingsburg auto show. The Volt also features a gas engine for backup. Its all-electric range is 40 miles, not quite half the $32,780 Leaf's 100-mile advertised distance.

    But according to Washington Examiner reporter David Freddoso, the news isn't all that electrifying for Chevy. Freddoso writes in his blog in March that sales of the Volt in February were a "very modest 281," down from 326 in December. Read some of the comments on the post, and it appears to be an issue more of supply than demand. One commenter says his Volt won't be delivered until late April or May.

    After several delays, Fisker appears on track to begin delivering its Karma sedan in June or July, reports Products & Tech News. The blog says "Fisker’s Roger Ormisher also points out that the company did begin 'limited series production' at the end of March as planned, and he says the company is 'ramping up slowly to ensure absolute quality.'" The all-electric luxury car will cost about $100,000.

    Comparatively, the entry-level 2012 Mitsubishi i will set buyers back a measly $27,990. Add in the federal tax credit and the price drops to $20,490, "a substantial savings ... when compared to its mass-produced production EV competition," the company says in a statement.

    For a couple thousand more, buyers can get the SE package with "360-watt, eight speaker sound system, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded seating material with silver interior accents, unique two-tone interior and door panels, 15-inch alloy wheels and fog lamps." Another upgrade includes a quick-charge port for 80 percent recharge in 30 minutes and other fun stuff.

    The MiEV will be on display at Earth Day San Francisco 2011 on April 23 in the Civic Center Plaza. For more information, go to

    Mitsubishi didn't offer a driving range for the MiEV on its press release, but Michael Boxwell of says the automaker claims a range of 92 miles. He said while testing the car, he was able to achieve a range of 92.7 miles in the city. "However, at higher speeds range does drop off considerably," Boxwell says. "On a trip down the motorway my range dropped to a little over 50 miles, while cross-country motoring gave me a range of 64.4 miles."

    Blogger Phil T has been testing the limits of his newly purchased Nissan Leaf on Southern California roads and had this to say of its range: "I measured 86.5 miles of range on a day when I decided to try to run the car out of power to see what the range would be. I drove some of the miles gently and others aggressively, with no freeway miles. I know that the car is capable of more range, and I may try it again with a full 'tank' of careful driving."

    I'll be following the exploits of Phil T, who just recently picked up his Leaf in Costa Mesa. I mentioned to him my fear of going all electric. (I have considered converting my black custom 1974 Super Beetle.) Phil says not to worry: "No point in being afraid, Mike. After all, 'faint heart never won fair maiden,' as they say."

    In my defense, I will say I won the fair maiden 20 years ago.

    Phil says it's just a matter of factoring in conditions and whether a driver's daily trips fit the range of an electric vehicle. "That and you'd need a plan for longer trips," he says.

    So, if you've taken the plunge, I'd love to hear about your experiences.

    Green Car Show, Activities Planned At Fresno Earth Day Event

    An impressive lineup of green vehicles - including some powered by solar and biofuel - will be among the displays at the 2011 Fresno Earth Day celebration scheduled for April 30 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 2672 E. Alluvial Ave.

    The Fresno Earth Day Coalition is sponsoring the free event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the church near Alluvial and Chestnut avenues. Display vehicles will include a solar Toyota Prius, a Volkswagen Jetta powered by vegetable oil, and a Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.

    But that's not all. This year's event, which is the second hosted at the church, will have more than 75 vendors and other participants. Among the star attractions: A group of students at Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) will show off their biodiesel processor - a machine that makes biodiesel out of vegetable oil, waste vegetable oil, and animal fats.

    There will be demonstrations on solar cooking, making biofuel, composting, earthworms and bee hives, and vegetarian cooking. A bike tour is planned, along with live music and activities for children. Bicyclists are encouraged to attend - there will be bike tours, helmet checks and even valet parking for bikes.

    The 2010 Earth Day event attracted around 400 people; organizers hope for more this year. For more information, visit the Earth Day Web site at

    The Fresno Earth Day Coalition is holding the event. Members include Fresno Metro Ministry, Green Fresno, San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust and the La Querencia cohousing community.

    image by

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    Study Touts Rooftop Solar Program

    Rooftops are becoming valuable real estate.

    In the Inland Valley of Southern California, massive warehouses are doubling as energy generators. Now, business and real estate leaders just to the west in Los Angeles say the seemingly wasted space atop apartment complexes could help meet renewable-energy goals, cut the city's carbon footprint, create jobs and save tenants and landlords money.

    In a fascinating report, a group of leaders from the city of Los Angeles, banking industry, affordable housing and business suggests a comprehensive program and feed-in tariff to put solar panels on flat rooftops could create enough power to supply 8% of the city's needs, while slashing utility bills and generating up to 4,500 direct and indirect jobs.

    Here is a related story in smartplanet.

    "There is a tremendous capacity for multifamily housing to contribute to a broader energy program," the report states. It calls multifamily housing, "The second-most cost-effective market in the city after commercial and industrial for solar."

    The program would allow businesses, property owners and non-profits to sell the power back to the local utility. Participants would receive a payment from the utility for each kilowatt hour of power fed back to the grid. The report estimates 4,000 apartment buildings with roofs large enough and flat enough to accommodate such a project.

    The Los Angeles report reinforces the work of Al Weinrub, who penned an earlier study of rooftop solar and decentralized power. In it, he says businesses with large rooftops or parking lots can become small power companies that feed electricity into the grid.

    One of the cool aspects of this is that the structures are already connected to the power grid and have an existing footprint, so no large-scale arrays need to occupy expanses of land and the environmental review process is minimized.

    Of course, none of this comes easy, and there are barriers.

    Chief among them is that local solar incentives are declining and Los Angeles does not yet have a feed-in tariff program in place. The benefit to tenants also is uncertain, although property owners who wish to join could be required to participate in energy-efficiency programs that lead to rebates or reduced utility costs for tenants.

    Still, the two studies offer a tantalizing look at what could be the future of California if Gov. Brown can accomplish his green-jobs program, which calls for, among other things, more rooftop solar.

    Photo of Southern California Edison's rooftop solar program by

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Electric cars roll into showrooms and find believers

    Blogger Phil T picked up his Nissan Leaf on March 31 and has been posting about his experiences ever since.

    His reviews?

    "We're very pleased with it," he writes. "The LEAF drives like a real car, accelerating and stopping quickly."

    Phil T's experiences are being repeated across the country as others take the electric car plunge and embrace a technology with a decidedly short consumer track record. Pioneers like Phil T, who recounts in detail all his thoughts and experiences on, blaze the trail for others.

    Just how many will follow is one of the big questions on the minds of many. (Well, mine at least). For instance, what about that limited range issue? Will the Chevy Volt, which has a much shorter all-electric capability than the 100-mile Leaf, be the bigger seller?

    Will electric vehicles remain a niche market limited to true believers or users whose driving requirements benefit from a zero-emissions ride?

    Answers to these questions and many more will materialize over the next year or so. In the meantime, developments in the sector are coming so fast and furious that they're hard to keep up with. I'll recount about a half dozen in this post.

    For instance, Google's gotten into the game, promising to map EV recharging stations.

    Google has teamed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and others in the venture, establishing a nationwide online network via GPS. Projects under way via the Clean Cities Program "include the deployment of electric vehicles and chargers" and other technologies like biodiesel and natural gas, U.S. Department of Energy officials said.

    Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research just released a report acknowledging the entry of the electric automobile and saying its biggest impact may be preparing the market for the electric scooter and motorcycle. Pike Senior analyst Dave Hurst and President Clint Wheelock write that the market, currently suffering from low demand, is poised for growth in North America and Europe, especially in cities where the relative silence of the electric two-wheelers enables residents greater access and less irritation.

    But Asia's the big buyer with projected sales of 19.6 million e-scooters and 2.9 million e-motorcycles by 2017, Hurst and Wheelock write. North America’s relatively puny but significant e-scooter and e-motorcycle markets are expected to grow to 41,146 e-scooters and 27,971 e-motorcycles in the same period.

    Another indication that we aren't in Dorothy's Kansas anymore comes from General Motors, which released a statement saying it received 135 clean-energy patents -- more in 2010 than any other organization, according to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index of U.S. patents. Patents include an ultra-efficient hybrid electric vehicle transmission, seamless start-stop fuel control system and a system to preheat the EV battery, improving range.

    "GM has clearly put forth a lot of effort in a range of clean-energy technologies," said Victor Cardona, co-chair of the Cleantech Group at Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti, publisher of the index, in the statement.

    Across the pond, Hertz Corp. has teamed with Mitsubishi Motors in the United Kingdom to roll out Mitsubishi's electric i-MiEV tiny city car as part of its rental fleet. Lance Bradley, Mitsubishi's UK managing director, underlined the status of the car to the Japanese manufacturer. "The i-MiEV is a very important vehicle for us, making a statement to the global car industry," he said in a press release.

    Plymouth, Mich.-based AVL, a manufacturer of automotive power trains, recently announced its sponsorship of EcoCAR 2: Plugging into the Future, a collegiate engineering competition. AVL will provide resources and guidance, "offering hands-on experience to automotive engineers of the future, advancing the electrification of vehicles," officials said.

    EcoCAR 2 was established by DOE and GM and is meant to train aspiring engineers and develop clean technologies through competition. The 16 university teams were selected when the competition started.

    If the level of corporate firepower is any indication, electric vehicles are here to stay. How they will integrate into the current mix and whether alternative fuel like isobutanol, biodiesel, hydrogen or compressed natural gas will play a significant role is an question for the futurists.

    In the meantime, people like Phil T will be telling the rest of us how it's done. His real-world insights provide invaluable information to newbies. For instance, in a recent post, the Leaf owner writes that the farthest he's driven in a day is 68 miles. He also says range can be variable.

    "On the most surprisingly short range day, the range display showed 71 miles in the morning. But after an 8 mile trip taking the family out to lunch and a quick 20 mile freeway drive with air conditioning, the range display only showed 21 miles," he says. "That's a reduction of 50 miles of displayed range after driving only 28 miles."

    Good to know.

    Photo: Mitsubishi's electric MiEV in London.

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    8 Reasons To Be Optimistic About Clean Energy

    It is easy to sing the blues over green energy.

    Government budgets are in disarray. Subsidies are under attack, and climate change is suddenly a dirty word.

    But all is not lost. Not by a long shot. Here are eight reasons to be optimistic about the future:

    1/ Heavy hitters are entering the game. Google, Warren Buffet and others didn't reach their lofty levels by making mistakes. When they show interest, perhaps we should pay attention.

    2/ The Department of Defense, saying our dependence on oil is a security issue, is deeply committed to going green. With a budget of $664 billion, the military should have some influence: If there is doubt, remember the Internet originally was invented for military purposes.

    3/ Big Business is on board. Walmart and other companies are discovering that going green - either through renewable power such as solar or by becoming more energy efficient - adds to their bottom lines. Take a look at Walmart's 2011 sustainability report.

    4/ Professional sports is getting up to bat: Hockey, baseball, football, basketball and other professional sports is a $19 billion per year enterprise that is gaining a green tint.

    5/ Government agencies are pushing it through new programs and initiatives, such as "America's Next Top Innovator," a Department of Energy effort to find The Next Big Thing in clean energy.

    6/ Energy conservation is going mainstream. Lowe's, Home Depot, Costco and other retailers are selling energy-efficiency and renewable energy off their shelves. Home builders include it in their sales pitches and awareness is growing.

    7/ Costs are coming down. As clean energy grows, oil prices climb and technology advances, costs are decreasing faster than projected. It won't be long - next year, perhaps? - that solar achieves parity.

    8/ California's requirement that utility companies get 33% of their power from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources by 2020. The mandate is incentive for more investment in clean energy in the state.

    Energy efficiency scores big, and there's growth on horizon

    An increasing number of public and private organizations are realizing the importance of energy savings and picking up on the philosophy pioneered in 1970s California by the Godfather of Green, Art Rosenfeld.

    While Rosenfeld, a nuclear physicist and California energy commissioner, started the movement that saved the state having to build many new electricity generating facilities, he's no longer the Lone Ranger.

    For instance, the Manteca Unified School District reportedly shaved $2.2 million from its energy bill over 19 months through energy efficiency.

    DTE Energy, which operates Detroit Edison, reported that its energy efficiency programs saved customers $31 million in 2010 with lifetime savings estimated to be about $520 million.

    And 16 members of the American Chemistry Council saved enough BTUs through energy efficiency measures in 2010 to power all the homes in a city the size of Akron, Ohio, for one year.

    To quote Donald Trump: "That's huge."

    Energy efficiency operates through a simple premise: install devices that use less power to save energy and, more importantly, money. Another benefit is a reduced greenhouse gas footprint. But that benefit is more esoteric and generally lost on Joe Consumer, especially with fuel prices taking an extra share of his resources.

    Many of the cities and counties we're working with at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization are doing the same thing. Although the only recognition they're likely to get is whatever I write in this post and others that follow.

    One of them, the City of Delano recently purchased 250 ecostrips for employee work stations. These power strips enable workers to turn off various electronic devices when not in use to reduce what many in the business call "vampire" power. This siphons off electricity for unneeded functions.

    According to my calculations, which show the average ecostrip can save about 12 percent of energy used, the savings for Delano can save about 36,180 kWh a year. Not bad for something that costs $24.95. The project is just the start, and the city has much more planned.

    And Tulare County, which is gearing up to launch an $826,000 energy efficiency lighting upgrade of about 17 of its buildings, could rack up savings of about 900,000 kWh. And that's just by replacing light fixtures and bulbs.

    In fact, SJVCEO's work with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which includes Tulare County and 35 other jurisdictions, amounts to potential savings of 5.5 million kWh. The savings on electricity bills and in CO2 should be noticeable.

    When I started working for this organization about a year and a half ago, energy efficiency hardly seemed tangible. Sure, I knew about using less power. In fact, I had nothing but a swamp cooler in my home despite summer temperatures in the Valley pushing past 100 degrees 40 to 50 days a year. Evaporative coolers use a fraction of the power an AC unit does.

    And I knew about turning off lights. My father, the light cop, also wouldn't turn on the furnace until the mud puddles outside started to freeze at night.

    But my experience working with utility and state engineers on energy audits and my own research has shown what an important role energy efficiency can play on a national scale. Buildings use an estimated 80 percent of the nation's generated power.

    Cut that by a third, and dividends come not only in reduced emissions but in national security. Less reliance on imported energy means less exposure to fluctuations in oil prices.

    Extending that argument into renewable energy further bolsters the national security benefit while reducing pollution.

    Some of the biggest drivers in this sector are institutions of higher learning.

    For instance, universities in the Big 10 purchased 256.6 million kWh of green power in the 2010-2011 academic year, earning a first-place conference ranking in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's College and University Green Power Challenge. The University of Pennsylvania in the Ivy League won for best individual college with 200.2 million kWh purchased.

    Gazing into my imaginary crystal ball, I see energy efficiency gaining increased importance on all fronts. Yet, I also see people responding more favorably to renewable energy, especially as prices for alternatives drop. If solar does become economically favorable even without subsidies, the decentralized power generation system envisioned by Al Weinrub will become a game changer.

    And I see the EPA's annual greenhouse gas inventory gaining importance. The recently released 16th annual report shows a 6.1 percent decline in overall emissions for 2009, largely due to a stalled economy.

    Perhaps in a few years, that decline will be attributed to efficiencies and alternatives.

    Photo: Pre energy efficiency at old Lathrop School. Courtesy Manteca Unified School District.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Biofuel Research Taking Center Stage

    I sit in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, a bountiful region that has been referred to as the world's salad bowl - and for good reason.

    Farmers here produce $20 billion worth of food and fiber annually that is shipped worldwide. Growers in Central California are efficient, productive, technologically advanced and raise a myriad of crops. Which leads me to wonder: could they become leaders in biofuel development too?

    The United States and Brazil dominate biofuel production, led by ethanol. In 2009, the U.S. produced half of the world's supply of ethanol, most of it from corn, according to this report that UC Berkeley helped develop.

    More production is likely as research into biofuel continues. Algae - pond scum and easily grown - shows promising potential. UC Merced, 60 miles from my desk in Fresno, is conducting cutting-edge research into algae, and a water-treatment company has inked a deal to distribute algae-extraction systems to its customers.

    Algae research already is creating jobs, according to the study that UC Berkeley participated in. Solazyme, a biotech firm near San Francisco, has been hiring algae researchers at the rate of one per week. But other types of fuel are being tested as well. Among them are jatropha, switchgrass , sorghum (which is being tested in Hanford), canola and Miscanthus.

    President Obama, trying to wean the nation off oil, is offering $30 million over the next three or four years for biofuel research, and the Berkeley study talks about growth in the industry.

    "As start-ups mature and commercialize their technologies, the industry will bring on workers for a full range of production needs. That diverse workforce will range from farmers to....molecular engineers."

    Farmers will be needed to grow the fuel sources, whatever they may be. The Southeast and Midwest are promising centers of biofuel, but some of the research is occurring in California, according to this report out of Parlier.

    I wonder if the Valley's farmers - who are among the most entrepreneurial in the world - can perhaps help create a new cash crop.

    Image by

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Earth Day: Don't mind the maggots

    OK, OK. So I used a Rolling Stones "Some Girls" reference in the headline.

    But my point is -- if I have one -- that on the eve of Earth Day 2011, debate over the environment appears as contentious as ever. For instance, on the late-night lineup of cable channel ABC Family, the Rev. Pat Robertson appeared questioning climate change as junk science. (My son had it tuned to the channel.)

    Really? Pat Robertson? (He's still alive?) I shouldn't be surprised. The brutal economic downturn and televised armed conflict invading American living rooms on a daily basis have most of the country on edge. Politics is more heated than ever.

    Environmental protections, climate change and clean energy look like luxuries easily jettisoned by people more interested in keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. There's no fault in taking advantage of unease to push political agenda. Heck, leverage is the American way.

    Yet, the issue transcends the conservative-liberal divide. Clean energy is not limited to the granola-crunching Sierra Club member anymore. Wal-Mart is a huge proponent of sustainability and renewable energy. And Raytheon Co. just won an Energy Star Award for Sustained Excellence from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for "reducing energy intensity by 3 percent in 2010 and by 22 percent since 2007" and cutting more than 2 million kWh in 2010.

    That's right, Raytheon, the Waltham, Mass.-based defense contractor that produces "missiles, smart munitions, close in weapons systems, projectiles, kinetic kill vehicles and directed energy effectors for the armed forces of the U.S. and other allied nations," according to finance.

    Soon, I believe, a lot more of this clean energy stuff will make sense to J.Q. Public. Already, energy efficiency is moving into the corner hardware store in the form of light-emitting diode and compact fluorescent technology and programmable thermostats. Heating and air conditioning companies are even getting into the solar mode, advertising exactly what it would cost the consumer to install 10 modules.

    Honest. In the Fresno Bee, which I still read despite being a casualty of its shrinking newsroom, an ad showed a system for $12,000. Tax incentives and rebates drop that by about $4,000, according to the company. That's approachable pricing, especially with summer AC power drains coming up.

    On, the site is trying to get people, organizations and corporations to embrace its "A Billion Acts of Green" campaign. The idea -- to pledge to live and act sustainably -- has reportedly received 45 million "actions" to date and seeks to register 1 billion in advance of the Earth Summit in Rio in 2012.

    And why not? Many of these cost nothing.

    For instance, T. Boone Pickens went big for wind power and now is investing in natural gas, joining with investment group Perseus in a $160 million deal to build a natural gas powered vehicle, according to a story by Katie Fehrenbacher at

    Natural gas is abundant. We've got a lot of it up on Alaska's North Slope (just wait for Sarah Palin to start talking about the gas pipeline) and huge domestic reserves in the Lower 48 that can be accessed by the increasingly controversial method of hydraulic fracturing.

    There may be traction on the natural gas front soon. Deirdre Shesgreen reported in that Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., is working with Pickens to "promote legislation that would provide billions of dollars in tax incentives to spur the development and purchase of natural gas vehicles."

    One of the first goals of the bill, dubbed the NAT GAS Act, should it pass would be to drive development of commercial trucks away from diesel and into the fold. But expect more stations around the country offering the fuel and more natural gas powered Honda Civics using them.

    "It's abundant, it's accessible, it's American," Shesgreen quoted Larson as saying. "The events in the Middle East and the events that have happened tragically in Japan only further underscore the urgency behind this."

    Ah yes. Security. There's the immediacy. Pickens also touts energy independence. Just check out his Pickens Plan website.

    Advances also are being made in algae fuel, cellulosic ethanol and isobutanol. None of this should be partisan. It's just really interesting and could pay off with huge dividends.

    And by dividends, I mean jobs.

    That's what it's all about. Opportunity in this industry for me is personal. We're working to assist teachers to train the next generation for jobs in clean energy through the Valley Legacy Grant. The resources come from the Workforce Investment Act. I'd like to see the kids from rural San Joaquin Valley communities with 20-plus percent jobless rates get a leg up in a growing industry. For more, check out our site, http://www.wiasjvceo/.

    But to get there, this nation's gotta chill on the rhetoric. And it comes from both sides. I can rip on the Republicans, but the greenies do the same thing.

    In a story on Huffington Post by Brenden DeMelle, executive director of, about climate-related dangers of methane emissions from shale gas fracking, a commenter who goes by the name gdauth provided perspective. DeMelle called his post "Highway to Hell," and I do appreciate the AC/DC Bon Scott reference.

    "Let's see," writes gdauth. "Can't use natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear, hydro; what is left? Wind? Nope can't use that it kills birds. Geothermal­? Don't have any in Florida. How about solar? The Chinese own all the factories, besides a hail storm and a tornado wiped out the solar farm that looks like h*** anyway. Besides the Chinese own all of the battery factories so what o we do at night? I guess I will go home to my cardboard box under the bridge and cook my spam over a candle."

    Yep, take a bite of the big apple. Just don't mind the maggots. It's a big issue and maybe we'll figure out how to get it all down.

    Photo: Courtesy

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Cities, universities learn the cost-savings power of lighting upgrades

    Replacing outdated light bulbs and fixtures with more energy-efficient types isn't exciting. In fact, when compared with solar arrays that track the sun and geothermal wells that bubble out power from the earth's center, it is downright boring.

    However, lighting consumes lots of power. By some estimates, commercial buildings use about 60% of their energy for lighting, according to this report.

    Thus, lighting retrofits are a crucial part of most energy-saving campaigns. Such retrofits are big at our non-profit, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization. We are working with several cash-strapped cities in the region to use stimulus money to retrofit interior and exterior lights in efforts to reduce their power bills.

    Energy conservation, when compared with siting and development costs of new solar and other renewable-energy programs, is cost effective. There is a reason why the Federal Department of Energy calls energy-efficiency programs "low hanging fruit" of the clean-energy movement.

    It appears to be catching on. Similar programs are under way or recently completed in other places. The city of Napa, for example, reported using federal grant funds to replace 148 energy-sapping street lights with more efficient LED models.

    And my wife's Alma mater, California State University, Fullerton, is replacing all 75,000 lamps on campus in 13 phases over 18 months. The $1.5 million project will cut the annual power bill some $300,000 annually - for a payback of approximately five years, after rebates, according to campus officials.

    Energy conservation makes sense socially and economically. Businesses, landlords and local governments that slash power costs end up with more money in their pockets. That money can be reinvested into operations or research, or can lead to the hiring - or preserving - of more personnel.

    Who says energy efficiency doesn't create jobs?

    Photo from

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Heavy hitters add heft to clean energy future

    We may not be seeing it in the trenches, but clean energy is generating quite a bit of buzz.

    Eric Wesoff of compiled a great post on venture capital activity for March 2011. He called it amazing, saying "In just one month there were more than 40 deals and more than $900 million was invested in every greentech sector from smart grid to solar to biofuels."

    At the corporate level, General Electric Co. went big for thin film solar announcing it will spend $600 million on a new factory to make what it promises will be a more efficient product than is now on the market, reported Scott Malone and Matt Daily of Reuters. They said the company projects thin film will generate up to $3 billion by 2015.

    And Neal Dikeman, a founding partner of Jane Capital Partners, says (and I'm paraphrasing) "Yeah sure there's a lot of static" but asks in a blog post whether those investors are making money. He proceeds to analyze the deals of BrightSource Energy, manufacturer of concentrated solar; electric automaker Fiskar Automotive; and Solyndra, manufacturer of cylindrical photovoltaic systems.

    His conclusion: There's hope.

    I believe there is more than that. We've got issues, and they're all seemingly related to fossil fuels. First and foremost, the environment needs a break. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune ties it all to sea turtles and energy. "Whether it's the effect of climate disruption from burning fossil fuels or the increasingly harsh environmental consequences of extracting coal and oil," he says on Huffington Post something's gotta be done.

    And there's the issue of national security. The military has brought up the issue repeatedly and is seeking solutions in the development of alternative fuels.

    President Obama brought up the subject during a speech at Georgetown University. "Even if we doubled U.S. oil production, we’re still really short," he said.

    Obama said the only way to secure the nation's energy supply is by reducing oil dependence. "We’ve got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy," he said. "And we’ve got to do it quickly."

    The news shakes off some of my natural pessimism, at least momentarily. Maybe I'm full of malarkey, but it's starting to sound a little like Christmas for clean energy. Maybe.

    News would be good for the San Joaquin Valley where February 2011 jobless rates hovered near 20 percent for Kern, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Tulare counties. Add in the dropout rates, which hover near the same percentage point, and it spells difficulties to come.

    Poverty, crime, despair. I prefer the optimism.

    Proteus develops work force for Valley's solar industry

    If it's solar and in the San Joaquin Valley, Hector Uriarte Jr. probably knows about it.

    Likely, he's been aware of the project ever since somebody mentioned it over coffee during the planning stages. Knowing about solar is one of his chief directives.

    Graduates of Visalia, Calif.-based Proteus Inc.'s solar training program depend on his connection with the fledgling clean energy industry for potential jobs. In the past year, about 175 students from the economically battered Valley have completed the Solar Photovoltaic Design & Installation program, learning everything from hands-on technique to theory.

    One thing Uriarte has found is that finding jobs -- at least at this point in the industry's evolution -- is far from simple. About 65 percent of his graduates have found work in the field. He'd like, of course, to make that 100 percent.

    But "we're working with an emerging market that hasn't emerged," he said.

    Companies have big plans in the Valley, with anecdotal evidence of at least several dozen projects of multiple sizes. So far though, most of the large-scale commercial solar installations remain on paper.

    One of the larger is a 400 megawatt array just east of Interstate 5 near Tranquillity in Fresno County that would be built in phases, and could contain up to 2.5 million solar panels sprawled over 3,500 acres, according to a Sandy Nax post. Another, a proposed western Kern County project, is on land that couldn't be farmed from lack of water.

    The latter project won the approval of the Bakersfield Californian editorial staff, who wrote, "It's welcome news that Kern County supervisors have given their blessing to a 6,047-acre solar project between Taft and Interstate 5. The 700-megawatt project positions photovoltaic solar panels on 4,868 acres."

    That means jobs. But forecast construction remains more than a year on the part of the Tranquility project, proposed by San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy.

    In the meantime, a trained work force is under its own form of construction. Uriarte says the graduates of the Proteus program land a job at the low end of the skill spectrum, usually as installers on small crews of four or five people.

    Big projects require multiple crews. Crew members have varying degrees of skill and status within the company. Uriarte says the more work, the more experience and the greater the opportunity for advancement within the industry.

    Many future solar projects in the commercial spectrum may be for specific needs. For instance, the city of Atwater, Calif. was considering a solar array to defray the massive costs devoured during the summer season by water pumps. Solar at the site could drastically cut electricity bills.

    Other cities and counties may consider going the route. The California Energy Commission is developing a potential new program that would provide local governments with planning and permitting assistance for renewable energy. Dubbed RP3, the idea won the support of the group, Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, which has as one of its directors Larry Alder of Google Inc.

    Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture, said the program "has the potential to have a measurable impact."

    Solar is coming. When remains a big question as does how. Al Weinrub, who has penned "Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California," believes that businesses should -- and likely will -- yield their rooftops to solar panels to defray energy costs.

    Talking to Proteus Inc.'s solar instructor Rick Gonzales recently, it was hard not to feel optimistic. The former human resources executive exudes positive vibes and believes in what he teaches.

    He's passing that onto his students. And if they absorb just 15 percent of that (about the amount of energy a solar module absorbs from the sun), the San Joaquin Valley will definitely be worthy of the University of California, Merced's designation of a "solar valley."

    Photo: Proteus Inc. students learn the craft.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Renewable Energy Industry Finding New Financing Sources

    Financing renewable energy programs is getting harder as government budgets face deficits, and as austerity becomes the new watchword.

    Many lawmakers are casting critical eyes toward such programs and some, as Christian Wolan of Forbes writes, want to do away with loan guarantees that pioneers in the upstart green-energy field say are crucial to securing sure footing.

    But all is not lost. Not by a long shot, if this item that appeared in Marketplace is true. Corporate America is taking a lead on green energy, declaring it makes sense economically and socially.

    The industry, as it gains heft and advances technologically, is lowering costs at the same time utility rates are climbing. As a result, more financing methods are being developed. Conventional banks are more willing to make loans, and businesses have more options - such as purchasing the power from systems they don't own. In addition, young startups are turning to established better-capitalized companies for help, as this story states.

    "Innovation in financing and new financing models can have as much impact as any technological breakthrough. It becomes very attractive to business investors," says energy analyst Sam Jaffe in the Marketplace article.

    This is an industry in its infancy. Venture capital has climbed, according to this article, but can be risky, as this blogger notes.

    Missteps will occur and progress will be uneven, but renewable energy could be a game changer in places such as the resource-rich San Joaquin Valley, where the sun shines brightly, power bills take big bites out of local budgets and out-of-production farmland beckon an entirely new industry.


    Monday, April 4, 2011

    Hanford Farmer Harvests The Sun

    A pistachio grower near Hanford who uses sun-tracking technology to run 70% of his operations says going solar fits an industry that depends upon natural resources for its product.

    "As an integrated grower, processor, and marketer of pistachios, I appreciate the value of harnessing natural resources in an efficient, sustainable manner," said Chuck Nichols, owner of Nichols Farms.

    Nichols just installed SolFocus technology on six acres adjacent to his processing facility. SolFocus uses a system of reflective optics to concentrate sunlight onto small, highly efficient solar cells. The system uses uses dual-axis tracking for consistent energy delivery and, as a result, will produce an estimated 2,244 kilowatts of energy the first year, according to this press release.

    The project was the culmination of efforts by Nichols, SolFocus, Bechtel Power Corp. and developer Sol Orchard. Jeff Brothers, president of Sol Orchard, introduced the concept to Nichols Farms, and Bechtel designed and built the system.

    "I’m a big believer in two things - energy independence and the American farmer’s ability to get us there," Brothers said. "This is another great project where the farmer is benefiting his operation, and the grid as well. Chuck is offsetting 70% of his pistachio processing facility’s energy load, and is hedging against future energy price spikes."

    He also is helping the transmission grid. "There is less load to travel over congested lines to reach his facility in Hanford," Brothers said. "Very futuristic thinking and very progressive, which is an apt description of Chuck Nichols.” Nichols is the latest grower in the Valley to incorporate renewable power into its operations. It is a trend that appears to be gaining appeal in California. You can read more about that here and here.

    As the Valley's largest industry - about $20 billion in 2009 - and a large user of energy, agriculture is ripe for alternative forms of power. Proponents contend that renewable power could be another another "cash" crop in the Valley, which is an intriguing prospect in a region with unemployment rates that surpass Appalachia, low incomes and heart-stopping utility bills.

    And why not? The Valley has ample sun; lots of available, inexpensive and unproductive farmland; wind turbines on its northern and southern tips; warehouses in Fresno and Tulare counties that have expanses of rooftop power-generating capability; and a burgeoning population.

    The potential is so good, in fact, that University of California, Merced, which does new research into solar energy, thinks the region from Stockton to the Grapevine could become "Solar Valley."

    Photo by SolFocus

    Rooftop solar & decentralized generation can save California

    Rooftops may not be the final frontier, but they do provide ample fields for cultivating solar panels.

    So says Al Weinrub, who has penned "Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California." Weinrub is a member of the Sierra Club California Energy-Climate Committee and serves on the Steering Committee of the Bay Area’s Local Clean Energy Alliance. He said he relied extensively on work from both.

    "Decentralized generation means that local residences, businesses, and communities become electric power producers," he writes. "Businesses with large rooftops or parking lots can become small power companies that feed electricity into the grid."

    The beauty is that these buildings are already connected to the electrical grid and have an existing footprint, benefits that a remote solar installation doesn't always have. Industrial solar on empty land requires extensive permitting, studies and review of environmental impact, especially if its federal. Those panels definitely can change a picturesque landscape.

    Another Shout-Out For Solar Energy In San Joaquin Valley

    The deserts of Southern California garner most of the headlines when people talk of the potential of solar energy in the Golden State. But the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is equally suitable, if not more so.

    Increasingly, word of its potential is seeping out. The latest endorsement comes from The Bakersfield Californian in the form of an editorial that calls solar projects in western Kern County "the perfect marriage of land and need."

    The western side of the Valley has some tantalizing attributes, as sierra2thesea notes in this article, and in this one. Thus, there are some rather impressive solar-energy projects on the drawing boards.

    One of the largest is a 400 megawatt array just east of Interstate 5 near Tranquillity in Fresno County that would be built in phases, and could contain up to 2.5 million solar panels sprawled over 3,500 acres. The proposed western Kern County project is on land that cannot be farmed and, as such, is supported by the Sierra Club.

    The west side has thousands of acres of fallow farmland that could mesh with solar and other types of clean energy, including biofuel. Meanwhile, proposals in the Mojave Desert and nearby Carrizo Plain have drawn fire from environmentalists.

    However, that doesn't mean that solar panels will layer all geographically suitable land in the Valley. Property that is protected from non-farming development by The Williamson Act would face additional hurdles.

    Still, there is a reason why University of California, Merced, which is conducting cutting-edge research into solar energy and algae biofuel, refers to the San Joaquin Valley as "Solar Valley."

    But Solar Valley, in our opinion, would be more than just large-scale solar projects. There is plenty of opportunity for smaller more localized projects, such as rooftop systems by cities such as Fresno, and in the Valley's $20 billion farming industry. Fresno Bee reporter Robert Rodriguez writes about solar and agriculture in this story.

    Economic development experts have long wanted to diversify the Valley's economy. Maybe Solar Valley is one way to do it.

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Valley Farmers Turning To The Sun To Power Their Operations

    We've written time and again about how the San Joaquin Valley is ideal for solar and other types of renewable-energy programs. That's due in part because the land is flat - and there is lots of it - and because leaders of the region's largest economy are discovering the power of alternative energy.

    Farming is a $20 billion enterprise here. Valley growers produce nuts, fruits and vegetables that are sold worldwide. Agriculture requires much energy, and farmers are increasingly turning to renewable sources to provide that power.

    Here are some examples, including a blog that details how California growers lead the nation in the production of renewable energy. Today's Los Angeles Times showcases a new 6-acre array of solar panels that will provide 70% of the power to a pistachio orchard. Here's a press release on the announcement.

    We expect solar and other types of alternative to expand in the resource-rich and geographically-blessed San Joaquin Valley as pressure mounts to meet a 33% statewide renewable-energy standard that awaits Gov. Brown's signature.

    The Valley, with thousands of acres of available land, ample sun, a mid-state location close to major population centers and University of Merced's cutting-edge research, could be positioned to be a leader in renewable energy.