Clean energy is bigger than birthdays

I turned 50 today.

It's memorable for a number of reasons. For one, it means I'm the age Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon made fun of as Sally O'Malley in quite a few high-kicking bits.

But the achievement, the coming new year and the birth of my second grandchild five days ago has gotten me to think even more about the big picture, the grand scheme. And not so much my role in it but how everything shakes out. 

Real existential, almost Kierkegaardian?

Not really. My thoughts are more practical, running to subjects like the economy and jobs. Here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, my coworker Sandy Nax and I were just discussing a recent article about how the Valley's technological advances in water-saving irrigation methods could draw the interest of venture capitalists.

Our conclusion: Why not? We've got the know-how, the farmers who don't know how to say, "I can't," and research and development resources at the International Center for Water Technology at California State University Fresno and at the University of California campuses of Merced and Davis.

And irrigation is just a piece of this new potential frontier. For months, Sandy's been talking up how the San Joaquin Valley is poised perfectly to be a leader or even center of the emerging clean energy industry. We've got the land, the know how and the sun. We've got electrical transmission lines crisscrossing the region, big enough to take on any biogas, biofuel, solar or wind (in Tehachapi's case). We've got a growing cadre of academics chomping at the bit to create the next big thing and a work force hungry for decent jobs.

Sure, other places have that too. Hard-bitten Detroit would likely challenge Fresno to a slugfest to land a prime project. But after working with Valley leaders from Arvin to Riverbank, I believe we've got an edge when it comes to government leaders who can work together to get things done.

The Valley has been on its own for generations. Its people know how to do more with less. Unfortunately, innovators often have had to go elsewhere to pursue their dreams.

The beauty of this clean energy business is that the resource is right here. All that sun could grow energy rather than electricity bills from overtaxed air conditioning units. The land could prove a testing ground for irrigation systems that can produce crops despite water shortages and arid conditions.

So I'm 50 (as in "Book 'em Dano.") My best friend says we're now almost as old as dirt, and my body hurts way more after a long run than it used to. I figure I have at least another 20 years before my wife parks me in the used husband lot, and in that time I believe this Valley could do big things. Like clean up the air while it shows the world how it's done.

Why not?