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 Greentechmedia.com 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.