Money for biofuel efforts headed to Valley

Camelina is emerging as a strong candidate for conversion to jet fuel, which, as this story in Western Farm Press notes, could be good news for owners of marginal land in the dry climate of the San Joaquin Valley.

Those efforts were bolstered in recent days when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 17 counties in California, including those in the San Joaquin Valley and nearby San Luis Obispo County, will be part of a broader effort to develop camelina (which also is good for cattle feed). Farmers will be reimbursed for much of the growing costs in a program that stems from the 2008 farm bill.

Here is more from a Turlock Journal story by Jonathan McCorkell, and from the official press release.

Why is this important? Well, thousands of acres of land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are idle due to water and salt issues, and biofuels such as camelina (and algae, which is being studied at UC Merced. Learn more here) present potential alternative crops. Up to 25,000 acres in California can be used for camelina production under the just-announced federal program.

The Air Force has used camelina as a fuel, and the prospect of more jobs is vitally important to a region with high unemployment. Here is a quote by Congressman Jim Costa, D-Calif., as reported in the Capital Press, who says the Naval Air Station in Lemoore is a potential customer. "As we continue to face high unemployment in the (Central) Valley, any efforts at job creation like this project are good news."

Here is a link to the rest of the Capital Press story.

Camelina was gaining popularity in Montana, but is losing ground to other more-established grain crops, according to this story in the Billings Gazette. Maybe Montana's loss will be our gain.

Could Renewable Energy Be The Next Big Thing?

It is safe to say the Internet, which started as as a military application, revolutionized society.

Now, a new Pike Research report suggests a similar scenario is possible in renewable energy, which the Department of Defense is aggressively pursuing as it seeks to cut costs, reduce its carbon footprint and increase energy security. Going Green could be the next big thing.

"Pike Research sees the DOD as a key driver in a (renewable energy) revolution that will directly impact non-military sectors, much the way the Internet and GPS have progressed over the last decade," the study says, noting a caveat: the energy must be reliable, and meet extensive testing and certification standards.

The study projects the military's investment in the procurement and production of renewable energy will reach $3 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2030. As the largest power consumer in the world - using 80 percent of the government's total energy annually - the military's influence is immense. It's easy to see the logic behind Pike's projection.

Every branch of the military is going green. The Army is building solar arrays. The Navy and Air Force are turning to biofuels, fuel cells and hybrid-electric technology. Marines in Afghanistan have solar-powered equipment to avoid deadly oil-supply runs. Read more about that here.

The military also is testing wind turbines and geothermal, and conserving more energy by replacing pumps and lighting. The Department of Defense has about 450 clean energy projects as of early 2010. One of the most ambitious: creating net-zero military bases that produce as much energy as they consume.

But even the military, with all its resources and $809 billion budget (23 percent of all government spending), has limitations. This blog, written by a retired general and a green-minded business leader, notes that the private sector isn't developing the sought-after technology fast enough.

The Pike report cites some military/private sector partnerships, such as testing camelina-based fuel developed by a Montana company, but the bloggers suggest the military establish more relationships between the private and public sectors - just as past partnerships between military and business advanced the Internet and space travel.

The support of the military - and the increasing awareness by Big Business that sustainability pays off socially and economically - bodes well for the green movement in general. If renewable energy takes off like the Internet, the resource-rich and geographically blessed San Joaquin Valley in California's heartland could reap huge benefits.

The Lemoore Naval Air Station is on tap to get solar panels, but much more could come to the area. Dozens of solar projects are already proposed in the region between Stockton and the Grapevine, and the fast-growing Valley, blessed with land, sun, wind resources to its north and south and wedged between three major population centers, is well positioned to capitalize on the emerging green economy.

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Firebaugh could be ground zero for clean energy

California's San Joaquin Valley is courting the renewable energy industry with all the finesse of hillbilly Lil Abner trying to entice a partner at an upscale waltz.

He's got the chops, but those combat boots.

Firebaugh may prove to be the Valley's Love Potion No. 9. The tiny west-side community of 7,000 hasn't let its rural character and farm field sentiments get in its way as it seeks to attract its share of perhaps the biggest potential energy development prize of the coming decade.

So far, it's got two sectors -- solar and biofuel -- in the wings and is pursuing sustainability and a regional clean energy leadership with vigor and, more importantly, real finesse.

Littleton, Colo.-based SolarGenUSA has leased a 52-acre parcel from the city for a 5 megawatt solar installation. The company's web site says the project has been permitted.

In addition, there's talk of a Seattle-based company looking to contract for 40,000 to 60,000 acres so it can plant an obscure but desert-loving plant that's part of the mustard family. The crop, camelina, may be emerging as a front-runner in the effort to develop a viable source of biofuel, writes Harry Cline of Western Farm Press.

This and enterprise on the part of its leaders makes Firebaugh potential ground zero for clean energy.

And the drive for clean energy is on its way. Make no mistake. While it appears to be taking its time, the push for more diverse sources of energy -- that don't add to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere -- has begun. And the San Joaquin Valley is attracting attention from solar, wind, biofuel and even geothermal.

Conventional wisdom would argue that those who establish successful operations at the outset of a trend have a strong chance of reaping profit. Kings County to the south also is flexing its sun-soaking muscles with nine solar projects on the books. And the towns of Tulare and Madera also jumped into the mix with solar arrays of their own.

Jobs in clean energy are expected. Their impact is outlined in multiple reports. Scarce now, they could break loose over the next couple of years as initial developers prove project viability. A new report offers a relatively rosy outlook, giving opponents of clean energy the argument that fossil fuels won't be considered "cheap" much longer.

"Costs of clean energy will rapidly decline because renewable energy standards, public investments, and environmental incentives will all spur new production," wrote authors Richard W. Caperton and Adam Hersh of the progressive Washington, D.C.-based think tank Center for American Progress.

Caperton is senior policy analyst on the center's energy opportunity team and Hersh is an economist on the center's economic policy team. They say in the report "Putting America Back to Work with Clean Energy" that the "crossover point" at which the two types of energy -- fossil and clean -- reach cost parity will be different depending on location and type, "but it is coming quickly."

Caperton and Hersh say investing in green energy will immediately create jobs, lower unemployment and improve the nation's energy system. Opponents argue that approach is simplistic and provide data that shows how costly clean energy can be.

That may be. However, other costs, including foreign policy and climate-related issues, if factored in, could create an altogether different cost-effectiveness ratio.

Separate from that is California's policy requiring utilities to get a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020. That also will drive development.

And there's the federal SunShot Initiative, announced on Feb. 4 by Energy Secretary Steven Chu. The initiative's goal is to reduce the cost of installed solar to about 6 cents per installed kilowatt, about a third of today's price.

The result? DOE says without subsidies this 6-cent statistic "will result in rapid, large-scale adoption of solar electricity across the United States."

Firebaugh intends to be first to the finish line. The city has in its corner City Manager Jose Ramirez, who said sustainability for the farming community is his goal. He has been working with me for the past year and a half to implement an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant that will pay for about $40,000 in LED street light retrofits.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act federal stimulus allocation is just an element of Ramirez's multi-pronged strategy to lower the greenhouse gas footprint of his community and improve its quality of life. Firebaugh also is working with the U.S. Department of  Housing and Urban Development through its Sustainable Communities Initiative. The goal of the program is to provide equitable development, planning and development approaches for achieving shared prosperity.

Sustainability can be measured many ways. In terms of energy, the city's moving forward quickly, urging on the solar project and energy efficiency measures. But Ramirez explained that Firebaugh's got greater ambitions. The city's launched an effort to better connect with the free-flowing San Joaquin River. The community began as a ferry crossing when most traffic into the Valley traveled via a much more robust waterway.

Firebaugh also has a significant community garden and is engaged in other projects.

Many other regions of the country are also trying to corner a niche in the clean energy era, if indeed it develops into one.

I'd personally prefer it were sooner than later, just to prove to my wife that it can happen. This comment fits with the Lil Abner reference. I identified with him growing up in rural Alaska. My wife was a princess in my estimation as her father was head of Alaska oil exploration for Arco at the time. She was and still is gorgeous and knows how to act in social situations, whereas I was raised by wolves.

Still, when Lil Abner had a feeling, he was usually right.