Natural Gas Camp : What is Natural Gas and How to Save

SJVCEO was a lucky recipient of an environmental community grant from Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) to host educational assemblies, Natural Gas Camp, with students in the San Joaquin Valley. During the assemblies students are exposed to the basics of natural gas, natural gas vehicles as well as how to conserve natural gas.

Yesterday SJVCEO held its first ever gas camp at Meadow Lane Elementary in Lemoore, CA. Students from three sixth grade classes rotated to different stations to learn about natural gas. During the 1.5 hour assembly students had hands on experience with gas meters, advanced gas meters and a CNG street sweeper from the City of Lemoore. Students were asked questions during each session and three lucky students were crowned Natural Gas Camp Champs and went home with Nest Thermostats. Thanks to Proteus Inc. the installation of the Nest thermostats to each household is at no cost. Each student was also given bags to take home that contained ways to save at home as well as fun giveaways from SoCal Gas and the City of Lemoore. 

Seeing a younger generation excited about natural gas and learning about what the future holds for the commodity was exciting! SJVCEO and all involved were so surprised that students were so aware of sustainability efforts with natural gas.

We cant thank all of partners enough for all of the help making this first Natural Gas Camp a success!

Fellowship of the sun: Quest for solar power continues

Chronicling the progress of solar energy has at times been like trying to follow Legolas, Gimli and the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring as they journey across Middle Earth.

Here's a possible dispatch from soon after their initial departure: They've gone through the Misty Mountains and successfully beat the odds in the mines of Moria. But Gandalf dies battling a balrog.

Likewise, solar continues to push forward despite tremendous odds: U.S. manufacturers have been buffeted by international market forces but battle through. Solyndra is killed by a beast known far and wide as bankruptcy.

It's not easy. Yet, in both cases, the quest continues. For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, the quest will never be over. My 15-year-old son currently carries a copy of "Return of the King."

For solar, the news on the whole is positive. Clint Wilder, senior editor at market analyst Clean Edge, says in a recent post that "U.S. solar installations grew 109 percent, adding 1,855 megawatts." He says that's thanks to "falling photovoltaic prices, favorable policies in key states, and the aggressive business strategies of installers/financiers like Solar City, SunRun, and SunEdison."

The battle for solar

That's not saying there's not a Battle of Hornberg at Helm's Deep still out there. (Recall in the Peter Jackson film "The Two Towers" where the fellowship whips up on bloodthirsty orcs in what has got to be one of the best fight screens in all moviedom.)

Solar progress in California's San Joaquin Valley has mirrored that in the rest of the nation. Development may not be as fast, but projects are getting green-lighted. The California Energy Commission shows 4,242.5 megawatts worth of major solar energy generating projects approved in the past several years and another 1,500 megawatts under review.

In the meantime, smaller projects are going in all over the state and the rest of the country. Here in the Valley, it's no different. But some spots are more progressive than others.

Signs point to job growth

Hector Uriarte at Proteus Inc. in Visalia says solar projects have begun to hurdle the permitting process and break ground, especially in Tulare County. “We have an 80 percent placement rate,” he said of his organization’s solar panel installation training program.
That placement rate represents a 20 point increase from about a year earlier at his organization.

Uriarte says the solar industry is very close to being a significant driver in the job market. “Once it breaks open, the need (for workers) will be tremendous,” he said.

Damon Silva of Bakersfield-based A-C Electric Co. said the utilities will play a big role in how fast solar projects materialize and begin to become a major driver in the San Joaquin Valley economy. “A lot of this has to do with the utilities themselves,” he said. “There are quite a few of our projects ready to go.”

Utilities must approve an energy project's link to the grid. That power has to meld seamlessly with existing sources and not overtax overhead, or underground, cables.

Educators seek to meet the need

The expansion in the industry means a need for jobs. The San Joaquin Valley's colleges have formed a group dubbed the Central California Community Colleges Committed to Change, or C6, to meet that demand. The program seeks to create accelerated educational training programs that produce qualified graduates for jobs in critical sectors that industry desperately wants to fill.

One of the targeted sectors is alternative and clean energy. The group is looking to form training and educational programs that build upon common curriculum that potential employers can depend upon. Discussion by the group at a recent meeting about clean energy focused on producing graduates fluent in the fundamentals and expanding from a solid base curriculum.

There is great potential. For instance the market for energy efficiency, which dovetails with solar, is huge. Steve Earl, president and CEO of Sequoia Energy Services, says he’s come across reports that indicate meeting California’s improved building standards for energy efficiency in new and retrofit structures would cost $90 billion. However, the projected return is $400 billion in savings.

Failure is not an option

The need to clean up our air is tremendous. In other words, the fellowship of the sun must not fail. My Precious, best known as Gollum's ring, for purposes of comparison, represents in this case fossil fuels. Spellbinding and useful but ultimately deadly.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that six monitoring stations up in the Arctic reveal what clean energy advocate has been saying all along, that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air are increasing. Sampling at those sites showed concentrations exceeding 400 parts per million in spring for several years.

"The northern sites in our monitoring network tell us what is coming soon to the globe as a whole," Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, tells "We will likely see global average CO2 concentrations reach 400 ppm about 2016."

Gimli & Legolas

This solar fellowship has a long way to go before it reaches the climax seen in "The Return of the King." But consider this: The industry has quite a few proponents who are true believers.

These, who I liken to Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the elf, boast immeasurable talent. Consider, for instance in the movie version of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" when the two start counting off their kills at Helm's Deep, courtesy

Gimli: Legolas! Two already!
Legolas: I'm on seventeen!
Gimli: Huh? I'll have no pointy-ear outscoring me! [kills another one]
Legolas: [shoots two more arrows] Nineteen!

Soon others of the fellowship will begin listing not their kills but their successes. Jobs will follow.

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.