The Winds Of Change Propel Clean Energy

It was in the 1980s when I first became interested in renewable energy. I was just entering my 30s and working in the newsroom of the Palm Springs Desert Sun, a daily newspaper serving the desert communities east of Riverside.

Palm Springs is a gateway to the San Gorgonio Pass, one of the windiest spots in California. I covered the attorneys in the county courthouse and the emerging wind industry (the hot air beat), which was taking advantage of the seemingly unrelenting breezes and tax breaks to grow the renewable-energy industry.

I was fascinated by the turbines beginning to pop up on the hilltops. I still get excited when they appear as backdrops in a movie or television show. (Did you see them on the first episode of last season's Amazing Race?) The whap-whap of the turbine blades was an interesting scenic diversion, even though they, in the 1980s, seemed to me like little more than a novelty.

Fast forward more than two decades, and wind energy is serious business. Today, windmills could power 829,000 households - nearly double since 2002- and projections call for wind to provide 5% of the state's electricity by 2013, according to calWEA, a nonprofit in California supported by the wind industry.

Much of that power comes from the Altamont Pass outside Tracy, the area near Palm Springs and the Tehachapi Wind Farm, just off the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley, which has been my home for almost 25 years. I live near Fresno, which doesn't have many wind turbines but is I'm-burning-the-hair-off-my-head hot during the summer. Thus, solar energy is gaining a larger profile, as evidenced by dozens of projects proposed between Stockton and the base of the Grapevine.

Agriculture operations are among the expanding users of solar energy in the Valley. Check out the latest from a pistachio processor in Tulare County, who just hooked up to the sun to help run his business. California led the nation in 2009 with almost 2,000 growers and ranchers generating electricity from renewable power, according to this report.

Sure, wind and solar remain bit players in the overall energy arena, but they are clearly gaining stature. I can almost hear the renewables movement picking up speed as large and small businesses take up the mantle of clean energy.

Companies such as Whole Foods, Intel and Kohl's are among the world's largest purchasers of renewable energy, according to this new study. In fact, Intel and Whole Foods buy all of their energy from renewable sources (Whole Foods uses only wind energy).

Clearly, those two companies, and the others on the list, are sending a signal: Going green is good socially and economically. I'm sure they wouldn't be doing it if it didn't generate green to the bottom line as well. Check out this report from a pilot program in Wisconsin.

Big Business and the military, which has declared its dependence on fossil fuel a national security issue, are leading the clean energy (which includes efficiency) charge, and helping fuel some economic growth. This story out of Milwaukee notes that the military's solar program was responsible for a manufacturer adding a second shift.

This all comes despite legislators who want to slash programs. I can't help but think we are on the ground floor of a green revolution.