Happy METU Monday!

Why does energy efficiency make good business sense?

There are many indirect energy saving benefits according to the Small Business Administration (SBA):

Enhanced Employee Productivity - Enhanced comfort and improved lighting conditions may contribute to improvements in staff productivity.
Reduced Operations and Maintenance Costs - Many energy-efficient technologies significantly decrease your operations and maintenance requirements, saving not only money but also staff time.
Increased Customer Comfort - Building upgrades will improve your facility's appearance, present your products or services in a comfortable, well-lit environment.
Increased Asset Value - Efficient business properties have higher market values than those with higher operating costs.
Enhanced Public Image - Your contribution to environmental protection very positively differentiates your business from your competitors.

Look out for METU near you!
We are so proud to announce that we just helped the City of Avenal save over 137,000 kWh in annual savings. That is equivalent to over $21,000 in savings on their utility bills and we are just getting started!

METU is continually looking to assist our municipal partners in the San Joaquin Valley. If you are in any of the following counties and have PG&E gas or electric service, call us today!

Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare counties.

Not sure where to start? Connect with us:
T: (877) 748-0841

Check out our NEW website!

Call for SC2 Fellowship Program Applicants

To: Community Partners

We would like to announce an opportunity for mid-career professionals to support the SC2 initiative in Fresno. Please share this information with those who may be interested in applying by the March 30 deadline.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), in cooperation with Cleveland State University (CSU) and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) have launched the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Fellowship Program.

The fellowship program, supported by a gift from the Rockefeller Foundation, is one component of the StrongCities, Strong Communities (SC2) program,which is a federal interagency pilot initiative that aims to strengthen neighborhoods, cities, and regions by enhancing the capacity of local governments to develop and implement economic visions and strategies.

The fellowship program will place highly motivated, mid-career professionals in local government agencies for a two-year (24 month) fellowship period.

Fellows will be placed in seven pilot cities: Chester, PA; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA; Memphis, TN; New Orleans,LA; Cleveland, OH and Youngstown, OH.

Fellows will receive annual stipends in the amount of $60,000 to support fellowship activities. Travel and training costs related to the fellowship program also will be covered. Fellows will begin work on or before September 1, 2012.

Fellowships are open to U.S. practitioners who have experience and expertise in economic development, public administration,community development, planning, housing, education, public finance, health, transportation, or other relevant fields, subject to the needs of each pilot city.

Throughout the fellowship period, fellows will work on specific projects and will receive additional training and other support from GMF, CSU, and VT. Specifically, fellows will participate in the nationally renowned public management training academy provided by CSU’s Levin College of Urban Affairs and will benefit from participating in periodic webinars and other professional development activities.

Fellows will also receive ongoing mentoring and support from experienced practitioners and scholars within the Levin College of Urban Affairs and Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute, and will be connected to additional professional training opportunities through these institutions.

Finally, fellows will have access to the German Marshall Fund’s international practitioner networks and exchange activities,including the Transatlantic Cities Network and the Cities in Transition project.

Application ProcessTo apply, complete and submit the application materials:

SC2 Fellowship Application Materials
Full details on the program may be found here:

Finalists will be interviewed in person by the GMF project team, representatives from the cities, and members of the federal SC2 teams.


All required documents including answers to ALL questions, official transcripts and letter of recommendation must be received by the March 30, 2012 to be considered for the fellowship program.

Please send all documents or inquiries to:
Strong Communities Fellowship Program
c/o The German Marshall Fund of the United States
1744 R Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Photo of Fresno courtesy of City of Fresno

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.

A Little Space-Age Technology Could Boost Clean Energy Fortunes

It is hard to stay hopeful amidst budget deficits and cost cutting, but one recent announcement brightened my spirits. NASA plans to expand facilities at NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley to accelerate advancements in clean energy and other technology.

The goal is to share ideas and, in this era of austerity, provide an infrastructure for innovation in the emerging renewable-energy industry. Fascinating work is under way - from solar roads and sun-powered backpacks for the military to solar balls that create drinking water - but NASA's increased attention could spark even more.

Gov. Brown has an ambitious green jobs platform, and legislators have signed on with strong endorsement of a 33% renewables standard. The legislation, assuming Brown signs it, puts the standard in concrete and provides a foundation for investment. Much can be accomplished when research capability is combined with incentive.

Perhaps parity with other forms of energy could be achieved more quickly. Some experts predict that solar power in sunnier parts of the nation could be less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour by 2012 (the average retail price of electricity for businesses and consumers in the United States is 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour.)

More renewable energy is laudable, but it really makes sense when development is twinned with energy conservation and efficiency. Less consumption leads to lower power bills and more money in the pockets of consumers and coffers of local governments. If they reduce power bills, municipalities such as Fresno could possibly save jobs or avoid pay cuts.

All this could help expand a new emerging economy in the San Joaquin Valley, which is ideally suited for clean energy. We have robust population growth, high power bills, low incomes, lots of sun and vacant flat land, access to the transmission grid, a strategic mid-state location close to three major power-sucking metropolitan centers, and college campuses that are research leaders in solar, biofuel, agriculture and water.

Californians have embraced renewable energy. Big business and the military are on board. Maybe NASA will give a space-age boost to everything.


More Companies Discover The Economic Wisdom Of Energy Efficiency

Good investments are hard to find in this economy. Housing prices are falling. Spiking oil prices send shock waves through the stock market. Some experts worry about the safety of municipal bonds. It is tough all over.

But one investment is almost a sure bet. It's not a standard investment, such as a mutual fund. And you don't earn money as much as you save money. But the result is the same: more money in your bank account.

What is this sure-fire investment? It is energy efficiency.

Minimum investment can lead to maximum returns. According to this report, every $1 investment in energy efficiency leads to a savings of $4. The consulting firm of McKinsey & Company reports that energy-efficiency programs could save $600 billion by 2020.

Some companies are reaping large returns from energy-retrofit projects. AT&T saved $44 million in 2009, Dow Chemical is investing $100 million in efficiency measures and News Corp has saved a bundle.

More on those efforts is available here, here and here.

The owners of the Empire State Building and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also are believers . There is a reason why federal energy officials call efficiency the low-hanging fruit of clean energy.

But, like many investments, there are upfront costs and other barriers to entry.

It has been an uphill slog in many ways. Some politicians propose deep cuts to efficiency programs, PACE programs (which would provide a financing mechanism for property owners to finance energy upgrades) were all but curtailed and budgets are in disarray.

But a potential $600 billion in savings awaits. And a strong energy-efficiency program could have a significant impact in places such as the San Joaquin Valley of Central California. In Fresno, where I live, my summertime power bill can exceed $500, and is my second-largest expense behind my mortgage.

Incomes here are low. The unemployment rate exceeds Appalachia figures. We have some of
worst concentrated poverty in the nation. Lower power bills would enrich residents, provide jobs and potentially stimulate the economy.

Photo of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by

The Greening of California Farms

California farmers just keep getting greener.

Growers, packers and shippers - and dozens of those dot the bountiful San Joaquin Valley of Central California - are increasingly discovering advantages to renewable energy, predominately solar.

This Packer story notes that three more farming enterprises - Live Oak Farms of LeGrand, DeBenedetto Orchards of Chowchilla and Henry Mesple Farms of Fresno - are installing solar systems to help power packing and cold-storage operations, headquarters and water pumps.

These projects are more evidence that California farmers, who already lead the nation in renewable energy, are serious about cutting their carbon footprints and their energy bills.

Consider this quote to The Packer by Bob Giampaoli, managing partner of Live Oak Farms: "Sustainability has been a priority for Live Oak Farms since our first harvest."

It also makes sense economically. Water pumps and other farm-related uses accounted for 13% and 11% respectively of the energy consumed in Fresno and Kern counties in 2009, according to figures we've cited.

Renewable energy, particularly solar, makes sense in the San Joaquin Valley in other ways too. We have lots of sun, ample land for solar arrays, lots of flat roofs for rooftop systems, access to the transmission grid and sky high power bills.

Photo by visitsunworks.wordpress

Pacific Gas and Electric To Hook Up More Solar

Pacific Gas & Electric has released more information regarding three large solar farms that it plans to build in Solar Valley, oops, I mean the San Joaquin Valley. It turns out the solar arrays will be built near Five Points and Helm, according to this story in The Fresno Bee.

The projects will generated a combined 50 megawatts of electricity, which PG&E says is enough to power 15,000 homes, and is the first big push by the utility to own and operate facilities, according to Tim Sheehan's story in The Bee.

We here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization believe that the region from Stockton to the Grapevine is an ideal spot for solar energy. We have ample sun, access to the power grid and lots of former farmland that is no longer productive - and flat.

Mike Jones of PG&E agrees. Sheehan quotes the power-generation manager as saying this, "The Central Valley holds tremendous potential as a source of clean energy for California."

And it comes at an opportune time. The solar sites will provide about 500,000 hours of paid work when the unemployment rate in Fresno County is about 17%. It also comes when utility companies are encouraged to increase their amount of green power to 33% by 2020.

The PG&E plants follow a similar one by Southern California Edison in Porterville. Budgets are an issue of course, but California has shown its willingness to embrace solar and other renewables. Maybe this is just a precursor of what could come.

New State Program Could Help Families Become More Energy Efficient

I live in your basic suburban tract house near Fresno. Fourteen hundred square feet with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a backyard pool. It was built in 1993.

Two dogs. One cat. One wife. Kid in college. But our monthly electricity bill during the summer, when Fresno fries under triple-digit temps, has been known to exceed $600. We like it cool, but not that cool.

I'm thinking an 18-year-old air conditioner could be part of the problem. Experts say that every jump in SEER rating equates to 7.5% increase in savings. So, going from a SEER 10, for example, to a new SEER 15 could potentially cut my power bills 45% .

And that's where a new California state program could benefit me, and others in a similar situation. The Energy Upgrade California plan launched this week by the Energy Commission provides up to $4,000 in rebates to homeowners who make energy-efficiency upgrades.

Using the program's Web portal, property owners can enter their zip code or county name to learn about available upgrade programs, rebates, financing options and participating contractors available to them.

Initially, the program will be available for single-family homes and multi-family properties of up to four units. Later in 2011, the program will expand to multi-family properties of five or more units. In fall 2011, the program will be expanded to include commercial properties.

Upgrades are available in two rebate packages: the Basic Upgrade Package and the Advanced Upgrade Package. The Basic Package consists of seven required elements designed to improve energy efficiency by approximately 10%, and includes a fixed rebate of $1,000. The Advanced Package is customized for the property owner, with rebates based on the energy savings achieved between 15-40 percent, with rebates ranging from $1,250 to more than $4,000, depending upon the utility provider and energy savings.

Here is a San Jose Mercury News story on the program, plus links to the CEC press release and to the Energy Upgrade California Web site.

photo by

Utility To Operate Big Solar Farm Near Fresno

In the same week that Southern California Edison flipped the switch on its new 5 million watt solar project near Porterville, it was announced that a neighboring utility will build three solar plants near Fresno.

The three projects, which are part of Pacific Gas and Electric's commitment to increase solar power over the next five years, will generate a total of 50 megawatts of electricity - enough for thousands of houses.

Solon Corp will start constructing a 160-acre solar plant in April for PG&E somewhere "in the vicinity of Fresno," Solon officials said in this press release. At 15 megawatts, it could supply power for up to 15,000 homes when finished in October.

The system will be a cluster concept with fixed-tilt mounting, and will feature remote control and monitoring.

Not to be outdone, Cupertino Electric Inc. of San Francisco will build a 15 megawatt and a 20-megawatt plant for PG&E, also near Fresno, according to the Central Valley Business Times.

The proposed arrays are more examples of the San Joaquin Valley's emerging solar-energy industry. With vast expanses of open and flat land, easy access to the power grid and ample sun, the region from Stockton to the base of the Grapevine could be the new "Solar Valley," according to officials at University of California, Merced, which conducts solar research.

The San Joaquin Valley is one of the largest agriculture regions in the world. Many observers think think solar could be an additional cash crop on marginal or poor farmland.

photo by

Could Solar Parity Lead To Solar Valley?

One of the biggest complaints against solar power has been that it can't survive without subsidies. Critics may have to soon come up with a new argument, a noted futurist says, because costs are coming down quickly as technological advances accelerate.

Ray Kurzweil told grist, an environmental online magazine, "The costs are coming down rapidly - we are only a few years away from parity. And then it's going to keep coming down, and people will be gravitating towards solar, even if they don't care at all about the environment, because of the economics."

Not everyone agrees. Brian Merchant of Treehugger argues that the powerful lobbying and political forces behind so-called "dirty fuel" won't let solar take hold anytime soon. "Relying on technology alone isn't likely to get us there," he says.

All this talk raises possibilities in the minds of myself and Mike Nemeth, my colleague, at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, which is dedicated to promoting energy-efficiency and renewable power in the resource-rich California interior.

Our office is in Fresno. Just a few miles away is some of the most productive farmland in the world. Agriculture here is a $20 billion industry, and it consumes a lot of power.

Plus, it gets hot here, as in I-can't-touch-the-steering wheel-of-my-car hot. Summer temperatures often are in triple digits, and residential and commercial power bills soar. A friend of mine once joked, "Is my power bill supposed to contain a comma?" As fuel prices climb, more people are thinking solar.

A solar boom could transform this region. The San Joaquin Valley could lead the nation in renewable energy, as well as agriculture. Farmers could, as this story in Agweek states, create a whole new cash crop.

The Valley has thousands of acres of former farmland sitting fallow. That land, which is laser flat and environmentally safe, is ideal for solar farms. A big transmission line extends down the west side of the Valley, and acres of warehouse rooftops in Fresno and Tulare counties are ideal candidates for rooftop solar systems.

There's a reason why University of California, Merced, which is conducting groundbreaking research in solar power, has dubbed the 240 or so miles from Stockton to the Grapevine "Solar Valley."

A Green Thumb On America's Rooftops

Have you ever looked closely at a map of California? Fresno and Tulare counties are almost dead center.

That is significant for one very good reason. A central location means companies that truck merchandise can reach the bulk of the state's 37 million or so residents in one day. That's why Best Buy, Gap, Walmart, Sears and other heavy hitters have massive distribution centers in the region.

And those warehouses have expansive roofs. Hundreds of thousands of square feet could generate power through rooftop solar, or they could cut energy costs and water runoff by going green - literally.

Borrowing a concept popular in Europe, green roofs - complete with sod and plants - are being planted in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Portland and other American cities, according to this fascinating story in environment 360 by Bruce Stutz. The vegetation requires little upkeep, and helps lower power bills and water runoff.

As evidence, Stutz cites a U.S. Postal Service distribution center in Manhattan that has cut storm water runoff into the city's municipal water system by up to 75% during the summer and 40% in the winter. The green roof has also has cut the building's energy use by $30,000 per year.

Chicago has really embraced the concept. That city added 600,000 square feet of green roof last year, and has 600 projects planned. However, Illinois was also the site of an interesting structural collapse when a portion of a green roof fell in. According to this New York Times story, ice could have prevented meltwater from draining.

Portland has a program for residential and commercial properties. “It was a cost/benefit evaluation,” city storm water specialist Tom Liptan told Stutz. “The issue here was storm water. We were trying to find a way to reduce the burden on the city. If we trap it on the roofs, we don’t have to build bigger pipes to carry it or cisterns to store it for treatment.”

Climate and environment help dictate the type of plants to be used, and their effectiveness. Researchers at Colorado State University tested a variety of species and came up with recommendations. Here is a link to their findings, and links here, here and here to studies of regions with Mediterranean and desert climates.

Energy and water conservation in California are becoming bigger issues, particularly in light of stories like this. Maybe making rooftops do double duty would help.

Photo of green roof of U.S. Postal Service building

New Web Site Provides Resources For Teachers Of Renewable Energy & Job Seekers

My outfit, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization in Fresno, is dedicated to fostering the development of renewable power and energy-efficiency projects in a 240-mile resource-rich region in the heart of California.

The Valley has abundant sun, and thousands of acres of flat former farm land ideally suited for large-scale solar facilities. The Tehachapi wind farm is just off its southern tip, and energy companies here have ready access to the transmission grid and to the human and academic resources of nearby universities such as UC Merced, Fresno State University and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Dead center in California and sandwiched between three major metropolitan areas, the San Joaquin Valley is positioned to play a prominent role in the emerging green-energy movement. We are helping that along.

The SJVCEO has unveiled an online resource for teachers, students and job seekers as its part of a larger Employment Development Department grant. The Web site contains lesson plans for high school teachers, links to help-wanted sites and green employers, reports and white papers and other information.

The site is still a work in progress, and will expand as we find more stuff to post. If you have any suggestions or recommendations for the site, please pass them along.

Photo by

Farmers Get Help Reducing Power Bills

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are among the most productive in the world, producing $20 billion worth of food and fiber annually. They use a lot of energy - as this blog pointed out - and could benefit in a big way from programs that cut power consumption.

Some have already taken steps to curb energy use by installing solar panels, cutting water use and taking other measures. But others may want to consider participating in this United States Department of Agriculture program that helps them get energy audits, and possibly help cut costs even more.

We at the non-profit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization in Fresno believe energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to join the green-energy movement. It's been proven time after time that minimal investments result in maximum returns.

In fact, Steven Chu, head of the U.S. Department of Energy, has altered a favorite line of energy conservationists. He's gone from saying energy efficiency is the "low-hanging fruit" of the green-energy movement to saying it is "fruit on the ground."

So, let's get picking.

photo from

Could We Become California's Great Solar Valley?

UC Merced's development director was in Fresno this week, outlining the university's innovative research into solar power. The campus is already a leader in that field, despite being only six years old.

As Ron Durbin spoke, he uttered a phrase that prompted me to underline it in my notes: He said University of California, Merced, could be "the hub of Solar Valley."

Solar Valley! The 240 or so miles from Stockton to south of Bakersfield, the world's most productive farmland could sprout an entirely new industry.

With the leverage of UC Merced, the San Joaquin Valley could become a world leader in solar development, research and, dare we say it, manufacturing. There are obstacles and challenges to overcome, but we have lots of sun, higher power bills, ample land for solar facilities, ready access to the grid and, as this Sierra2TheSea item notes, are "sandwiched" between two major metropolitan areas.

We have a history of can-do spirit, and Buchanan, Edison and other Valley high schools and community colleges are developing green curriculum to train a future workforce. Bolstered by the prospect of high speed rail, the region is starting to get noticed internationally.

The Fresno Bee recently had a story about China (which also is a leader in green energy) wanting a piece of the high-speed rail pie, and The Fresno Business Journal quoted a visitor at the Cancun climate talks who reported on a Fresno connection at a panel discussion there:

"They were talking about the infrastructure investment all over the world to reduce greenhouse gasses and the issue of the high speed rail was raised. During the discussion, the subject of America and it lagging behind the rest of the world in both of these areas came up. The President of Siemens said that California has taken the lead on these issues, and is attracting investment, and that Fresno, California, is at the epicenter of this movement as a vocal proponent of clean energy and the high speed rail."

Steve Geil, president of the Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County, says the region is "perfectly aligned" to become a leader in clean energy, and noted the significance of the comments in Cancun.

"We need to capitalize on it and take it to the next level," he said "We need to show a unified voice and connectivity."

Brown Talks Green In His Inaugural Address

Gov. Jerry Brown posted his green-jobs initiative months ago, but he reinforced his commitment to clean energy during his inaugural speech yesterday. In his relatively brief (16 minutes) address, Brown, who is getting a do-over as the state's chief executive, noted that clean energy can help lead California out of this recession, according to this story.

He wants to generate enough renewable energy to power 15 million homes. We here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization believe this region from San Joaquin through Kern counties - the most productive farming area in the nation - can play a key role in that plan.

As we've said before, we are ideally situated. We have raw material for biogas and biofuel projects, sun and land for solar farms, wind turbines off our southern tip, access to transmission lines, and are ringed by top-notch universities that can conduct research and development.

And we have the incentive. Clean energy, rooftop solar and energy-efficiency programs could greatly benefit a region that has high power bills, low incomes, a stubborn double-digit unemployment rate and concerns over air pollution and water stability.

Just as Hollywood is the filmaking capital of the world and Silicon Valley leads in technology, the San Joaquin Valley could lead in clean energy.

Bringing Sun Power To The Golden State

Solar is coming to California in a big way. Recent weeks brought announcements of a huge solar plant breaking ground in Southern California, another biggie that could get under construction next year on 2,000 acres in San Luis Obispo County, the biggest school solar project in the nation, and more rooftop systems.

None of these are puny. The two utility-scale developments in Southern California and San Luis Obispo County could potentially supply renewable power to a combined 240,000 houses, and the deal with Mount Diablo Unified School District in San Jose covers 51 schools, 11.2 megawatts of solar capacity and is expected to save $192 million in power costs over 30 years.

That comes on the heels of a 9.6 megawatt $52 million solar schools project in Lancaster, which is in the high desert of Southern California. That development is expected to save $40 million in energy costs over 20 years, according to this report.
In the Inland Empire portion of Southern California - where warehouses stretch for miles - solar power is becoming more prevalent on rooftops. Last week, Southern California Edison announced 16,300 solar panels on a 436,000-square-foot warehouse in Rialto are producing power.

Similar installations are in place in Fontana and Chino. Over the next four years, about 100 buildings in the region could become power producers, according to The Solar Home & Business Journal.

The deals are good for the property owner because it gets lease income, and for the utility, which must meet renewable-energy requirements.

A new rooftop system in Fresno isn't as spectacular, but the solar displays at its convention center buildings will cut costs 15%, or $42,600 per year. Last year, the power bill at the center was $942,822. About 1.7 megawatts of added solar-generated power will come from the devices on the roof of Selland Arena, Valdez Hall and carport structures, city officials said in a staff report.

In Fresno, the city does not own or buy the solar systems, but agrees to purchase the power from a private developer over 20 years. The price is less than what the city pays currently to Pacific Gas & Electric.

This is the city's third solar project. The others at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Municipal Service Center total about 3 megawatts. Both are cash-flow positive.

Solar developers are eyeing other city-owned buildings too, as well as dozens of other areas in Central and Southern California. Gov-elect Jerry Brown has an ambitious solar and green-jobs program, but whether it all comes to pass remains to be seen.

There's a little matter of a $25 billion budget deficit. This Arizona State study suggests California is way down the list as top spots for solar, and the Los Angeles Times reports that Brown's plan might have some costly upsides.

Nonetheless, California, as Hollywood and Silicon Valley prove, has a history of innovation.
(Photo of Rialto warehouse solar project courtesy of

Report Touts Energy Efficiency And Rural Green Energy

The latest in a string of reports that says improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings is the fastest and easiest way to create clean-energy jobs and to save money also gives a little boost to rural farming regions such as the San Joaquin Valley.

"Rural communities, plagued by some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, have unique strengths that can capture clean-energy investment and create quality jobs in projects such as wind and solar farms, biodigesters and the cultivation and processing of sustainable non-food biofuels," The California Apollo Program says in a just-released report.

The study, a product of a new alliance of California business, labor, environmental and community leaders, suggests that farmers and communities could ultimately own and benefit from the generated power.

The Apollo report follows this study by a University of California, Merced, professor who projects the Valley could easily create 100,000 clean-energy jobs - and also substantiates studies that claim improving the efficiency of existing and new buildings is the most effective component of a clean-energy program. Combining efficiency program with a 33% renewable sources goal could produce 566,000 jobs statewide by 2020, according to the report.

We've written time and again about the power of energy-efficiency upgrades. They are the low-hanging fruit of the green movement. And their power is magnified in the San Joaquin Valley, where soaring power bills and low incomes squeeze consumers.

As online Green magazine Grist says, "Efficiency is the cheapest form of energy."

Modernizing California's out-of-date power grid should be part of the effort. At least six transmission lines must be built by 2030 to support projected demand and new renewable-energy projects, the authors say, citing the California Independent System Operator, the non-profit entity that controls the majority of the state's power grid.

The Apollo authors note that California leads the nation in the number of clean-energy jobs, businesses and patents, and accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. venture capital in renewables technology. As the eighth-largest economy in the world, California has the leverage to mobilize investment and ingenuity in the emerging industry.

A huge deficit and crushing recession complicates matters, of course, but California voters showed in the last election that they support clean energy. Plus, Gov-elect Jerry Brown is a supporter and has developed his own jobs plan.

Who knows what will happen, but could clean energy be the next technological innovation in California? And, if so, will the San Joaquin Valley reap the benefits?

Feds Unveil Energy Efficiency Recommendations

We here at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization tout the power of energy- efficiency improvements. Changing windows, adding insulation, sealing air ducts, installing efficient lighting and other upgrades can go a long way toward reducing power bills.

Such improvements - the industry calls them "retrofits" - are the low-hanging fruit of the green-energy movement. It's been shown time after time that a minimum investment can result in maximum returns. At my house in Fresno - where summer temperatures hit triple digits and the air conditioner runs all day - the power bill is the second-largest expense behind the mortgage.

If I can cut energy expenses, I save money. It sounds so simple, but the federal Department of Energy says energy conservation is not a pressing issue for most people. So, the agency is trying to come up with a plan that would encourage energy conservation among homeowners.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have unveiled some recommendations for prodding homeowners down the energy-efficiency path, and for guiding the government's future efficiency programs.

  • Sell something people want: identify an issue such as health, financial savings, energy security or comfort to attract public interest;

  • Target the audience and tailor messages accordingly. A blanket marketing campaign won't work;

  • Partner with local organizations and local leaders, and build on existing relationships;

  • Language is powerful: avoid using words such as "retrofit" and "audit." Focus instead on concrete examples, personalize the material and frame statements in terms of loss rather than gain;

  • Contractors can be used as program ambassadors;

  • Make it easy, make it fast: package incentives, minimize paperwork and pre-approved contractors;

  • Repeat the message: advertising studies show that people need to be hit with a message at least three times before being convinced. Energy efficiency can be a tough sell because homeowners have to spend money to reap the benefits. Plan a multilayered campaign;

  • Rebates, financing and other incentives do matter;

  • A well-qualified workforce is essential: promoting a program before contractors can handle the workload leads to disgruntled customers;

  • Be patient: programs need to last for more than a year or two to be successful;

  • Use pilot programs to test strategies.

Lawrence Berkeley's report came out one day after Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a new federal program that offers certified contractors new software to show how much energy homeowners are wasting and to offer low-cost financing to finance improvements.

Dubbed "Recovery Through Retrofit" (thus going against the recommendation listed above to abandon the phrase "retrofit"), the software produces an energy score for each homeowner.

Veterans District Gets Biggest Solar Project In Clovis

A rescheduling of priorities is allowing directors of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District to get a solar electricity system that will shave more than $3 million off their power bills over the next 25 years.

Installation of the $1.3 million system on the Old Town building is being made possible by shifting work projects. It is believed to be the largest solar project in Clovis, according to stories in The Fresno Bee and The Business Journal..

That is yet another example of the region's increasing interest in solar and clean energy. In 2009, the Fresno-Clovis metropolitan area ranked second among California cities behind San Diego in the number of solar installations, The Bee reported.

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