green energy

Tech companies move up list of green power purchasers

Tech companies Google and Ingram Micro have scurried onto a list of the nation's top green energy users.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its list of top 50 green power purchasers, and Mountain View, Calif.-based Google and Santa Ana, Calif.-based Ingram, a maker of information technology products, edged their way onto the charts.

The companies join others like Walmart and Intel that have embraced sustainability and are setting an example to others of balancing saving money with environmental stewardship.

"By making the switch to renewable power, these forward thinking companies are reducing greenhouse gasses and other harmful air pollution so that Americans can breathe easier.” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, in a statement.

No. 1 on the list is Intel Corp. with 2.5 billion kilowatt hours of green energy purchased amounting to 88 percent of its consumption. The rest of the top five include No. 2 Kohl's Department Stores with 1.4 billion kWh and 100 percent of its consumption, No. 3 Whole Foods Market with 752 million kWh and 100 percent, No. 4 City of Houston with 438 million kWh and 34 percent and No. 5 Starbucks with 422 million kWh and 52 percent.

PepsiCo left the top five this year, dropping off the list entirely.

EPA officials say the top 50 purchasers use more than 14 billion kWh of green power annually, "equivalent to avoiding the carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity use of more than 1.2 million average American homes." Green power is generated from renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, and low-impact hydropower.

EPA says Google purchases green power from NextEra Energy Resources, Renewable Choice Energy and Puget Sound Energy and has helped create the largest residential solar fund in the country. It also has invested in the world's largest wind farm, the Alta Wind Energy Center near Tehachapi, Calif., and the Ivanpah Power Tower solar project in California’s Mojave Desert.

Ingram Micro's purchases of more than 3 million kWh of green power annually puts it low on the volume list, but it's enough green power to meet 107 percent of the company's electricity use.

FX's Wilfred may hold the key to clean energy challenge

Every episode of the half-hour emo-comedy "Wilfred" starts with a quote.

Theme music plays as a word is selected from the phrase illustrated on-screen in white-on-black lettering. All other words disappear, and veteran viewers know what follows. Series hero and pot-smoking former attorney Ryan (Elijah Wood from "The Lord of the Rings") will struggle with the subject for the next 23 minutes.

Episode 10 offers this: "Isolation is a self-defeating dream."

Key word: "Isolation."

Ryan and his neighbor's dog, the Australian accented Wilfred (Jason Gann in a dog suit), spend the show dealing with the fallout of our anti-hero ignoring Wilfred's advice and alienating the entire neighborhood.
Hardly the stuff dreams are made of, but I love this show, which airs on FX. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, my favorite reviewer, calls it the trippiest of summer comedies. He's right. Nobody sees Wilfred as a beer swilling, belching, couch potato human in a dog suit except Ryan (and another odd guy in a previous episode).

But what captured my interest in terms of this post has to do with the quotes in the intro. Simple white on black type, odd music box theme song. Kind of Fractured Fairy Tales for the 22nd century. (Except the Bullwinkle character is live action.)
I'd like to apply that same formula (as I start my own personal sit-com this week) to clean energy.

Cue music. Quote appears: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." From the always relevant "Princess Bride." The theme is "challenge." (I realize it doesn't meet "Wilfred" quote standards, but I like Inigo.)

In that vein, the unassuming hero (me) of this mundane, unfilmed reality show that is my life issues this challenge to the nation's renewable energy companies:

  • Reach parity with fossil fuels and win converts, clean air and another season on the same network. Maybe this one without commercial breaks.
My wish list would include the following:
  • Solar that pencils so perfectly that even Bank of America would lend a low-interest loan to defray installation expenses.
  • Cheap distributed solar installations producing excess energy that utilities clamor to purchase.
  • Simple methods for turning excess solar energy into hydrogen, using no fossil fuels.
  • Renewable energy that costs less than coal.
  • Algae fuel for $30 per barrel, produced in waste water treatment ponds across the country.
  • Wave energy that works.
  • Offshore wind power that can harness hurricane power.
  • Energy storage systems using a multitude of systems from water storage to batteries and whatever else is devised.
I'm sure others have better ideas. But that's my thought. For next week's imaginary episode I'll try to figure out a way to motivate myself to pull the 1600 dual port engine in my bug and string in a new wiring harness. All in 23 minutes. Ha! Prepare to die evil ancient wires!

Clean energy is serious, however. This is not optional challenge. Our air is nasty and it's not getting better no matter what any wishful thinker says. We only have this planet, and it's getting smaller. Air and water are limited resources. We can still find markets for all our fossil fuels, but let's stop wasting them for energy that appears cheap but in reality can cost far more.

Even Wilfred would agree. After he has another beer.

Engage 360 Energy Movement Reaches Valley

A smart-energy movement has arrived in the Valley with the opening of the Engage 360 Central California office.
The office, at 2380 W. Whitendale Ave., Visalia, opened in early June. A grand opening was held Tuesday.

For more information, read the rest of the story:

(Jackson Taylor, left, community manager at Engage 360, talks with Scott Smith of ServPro Visalia at Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony.)
Photo by: Juan Villa, copyright Visalia Times-Delta. Used with permission

Prof: Use solar to make hydrogen & power the world

On any given day, humans blow through millions of gallons of gas, untold tons of coal and scads of electricity from nuclear plants, hydropower dams and various other power-producing operations.

The cost is tremendous and its perpetuation a main driver of the global economy.

All that energy equates to about 15 terawatts, give or take, per year. A terawatt is a trillion watts. And demand, while stymied somewhat by recession-aided stagnation, is expected to grow.

The problem is that we humans are burning, churning and polluting our way through a finite fuel source. What if, on the other hand, we got handed to us a viable energy source that doesn't stink up the place?

We did. Or we do. It's the sun and an element six times lighter than air -- hydrogen.

Sure, the statement's old new to anybody on the clean energy front. "Solar, solar, solar," the mantra drives oil industry execs to distraction.

But tapping into the sun for all the world's energy is possible, we just have to figure out how to pull it off, says Derek Abbott, who looked at energy problem as an engineer would, calculating out a potential solution without letting minor details get in the way.

In a six-part lecture posted on YouTube and viewed in most cases just several hundred times, Abbott, a professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia, spells out just what it would take to capture solar energy and provide enough to power the world's 15 terawatts. The sun, he says, produces enough energy to power about 10,000 of our planets, or 174,000 terawatts.

Imagine 500-by-500 square kilometers of parabolic mirrors used to capture the sun's rays and reflect it back to boil water used to create electricity. Abbott's concept is to limit "digging in the ground" for energy, thus going with mirrors rather than photovoltaic panels.

He says that is all it would take, should his figures prove correct, to crank up those 15 terawatts.

"That's the size of Victoria," says the Australian, referring to the southeastern state of his country that stares across the Bass Strait at Tasmania. "Would anybody miss Victorians?"

Possibly not New Zealanders, but that's incidental. (I'm hardly an expert in down-under razzes but a good example is the reference to Miss New Zealand in a couple of "Flight of the Conchords" episodes by Australians.)

Abbott proposes to solve the on-again, off-again nature of solar power by using it to produce hydrogen via electrolysis of water. The electricity created by solar energy would create the separation of the hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The hydrogen could be exported as fuel.

Abbott's concept involves garnering government support for research and some initial subsidies and is focused on what Australia can do. His university has as a motto: "Our students make an impact on the world."

Abbott points out that his theories require vetting and further research. But he also mentions that Henry Ford started building his wildly successful Model T prior to construction of many sealed roads and service stations. So it's a Frisbee. What the heck? I'm always up for a game.

As for the safety of hydrogen, Abbott says he was encouraged by a University of Miami study that showed how a puncture of a hydrogen tank on a vehicle compares with one in a gas-powered vehicle. One explodes, one doesn't. Suffice to say hydrogen cars, which have been embraced by the likes of Jay Leno, won't necessarily work for a Michael Bay film.

BMW offers its hydrogen powered series 7 car with an internal combustion engine. And as Leno says, "It's a fuel just like any other fuel." The fuel is maintained cold enough to be in a liquid state.

Leno says he suspects hydrogen as a fuel will move rapidly. Of course with the BMW, the driver can switch without any trouble to gasoline.

As BMW says, "The future is closer than you think."

Photo: Courtesy

Student competition seeks best clean energy businesses

Wanted: clean energy business ideas.

The U.S. Department of Energy wants the nation's universities to cough up its best and brightest green entrepreneurs. The agency has launched an initiative meant to create up to six regional "student-focused" business creation competitions.

The National University Clean Energy Business Challenge has been capitalized with $2 million to cover costs. Regional winners will compete for a grand prize in Washington, D.C. in early summer 2012.

"This investment will train a new generation of scientific and technical leaders," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement. He said the effort supports the Obama Administration's continued effort to ensure that America has the workforce "to secure our energy future, create jobs here at home and win the future."

The business ideas sought have to do with energy efficiency and renewable energy. Officials say that student teams in the competitions will work with experienced mentors from the energy industry along with university and national lab-based researchers. The intent is to develop creative business plans for "transforming ground-breaking energy technologies into high impact market solutions."

For more information, go to and plug in the funding opportunity reference number DE-FOA-0000570. This part is for institutions interested in staging the competitions. Applications are due on Aug. 22, 2011. Selections are expected to be made before the end of September 2011.

We'll keep you posted as we learn more specifics.

San Francisco biogas energy conference highlights profitability & technology

The opportunities and payback for biogas development have never been better.

But don't take our word for it. Listen to what about two dozen experts have to say at the Biogas USA West Conference 2011 scheduled this fall.

The event is planned for the South San Francisco Conference Center, 255 South Airport Blvd., South San Francisco, Oct. 11-12. Attendees also can participate in a pre-conference seminar introducing them to biogas-produced energy and/or a post-conference seminar entitled "Biomethane for Transportation."

"This is a particularly good conference to attend because it has a strong international attendance, too, so attendees get to hear about what is really happening in the world of biogas and its technology," said Hanafi R. Fraval, chairman of Ag Biomass Center Inc. in Los Angeles and an advisory board member to the event.

Biogas has ties to the San Joaquin Valley, which has been called a Petri dish for clean energy. The region has sun, wind and a diversified agricultural base that makes it a natural for development of biogas and biofuels. The region already has a number of methane digesters, giving host farmers another source of income.

On the conference agenda is Lewis R. Nelson, public works director for the City of Tulare and a clean energy expert. Commissioner Jim Boyd, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission, is the keynote speaker.

The event is being put together by GreenPower Conferences. Organizers said world markets for biogas are booming and operators are continuing to increase plant efficiency.

According to the American Biogas Council, there are more than 160 anaerobic digesters on farms and about 1,500 more operating at wastewater treatment plants in the country. But only about 250 of those wastewater plants use the biogas produced.

For more information and to register, go to

More Evidence That Going Green Pays Huge Dividends

The brainiacs at Google and manufacturers in Wisconsin came up with similar conclusions in different studies. Google gazed into the future and predicted the potential for billions in new GDP through green energy. The localized Wisconsin study reviewed a pilot program in place and found millions saved in energy costs and millions in new revenue.

What does all this mean? I'll let the Wisconsin authors respond in a quote from their report:

"The obvious potential for economic growth, environmental impact reduction and job creation simply cannot be ignored...The results clearly establish that economic growth and improved environmental outcomes are not mutually exclusive."

Here is a link to the Wisconsin report, which highlights the Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative launched in April 2010. Cost-analysis studies of 87 projects and 45 manufacturers calculated $4.1 million in annual savings (projected to $26.9 million over 5 years), $23.5 million in increased/retained sales and a 31-1 return on investment. Here's more.

This study by Google is a bit over my I-barely-made-it-through-geometry head, but I understand the conclusions: Innovation + clean energy policies = a major league economic boon.

Google, in its official blog, summarizes the study, which used McKinsey's Low Carbon Economics Tool to assess economic impacts. Conclusion: Billions in new GDP by 2030; at least 1.1 million new full-time jobs per year; reduction of nearly $1,000 in average annual household energy bills and a decline in U.S. oil consumption of about 1.1 billion barrels per year.

Google, which has invested millions in renewable energy and efficiency programs, also found that sooner rather than later is key, and that strong energy policy combined with innovation speeds up and expands results:

"...A mere five-year delay (2010-2015) in accelerating technology innovation led to $2.3-$3.2 trillion in unrealized GDP, an aggregate 1.2-14 million net unrealized jobs and 8-28 more gigatons of potential GHG emissions by 2050," the report states.

These studies are further evidence that a strong clean-energy program, which should include efficiency as well as innovation, could do wonders, or should I say "trillions," for deficit-wracked budgets.

Increasing revenue and cutting costs. What better budget plan is there?

(Photo of Madison, WI., by plasticboy)

Project seeks to inspire a new generation to seek green fortunes

This video highlights San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization's work in the Valley Legacy Grant.

The funds come from the Workforce Investment Act, and SJVCEO's role, although small, is to help teach people about clean energy. We're working with teachers, institutions and the private sector to help provide an educated work force ready for an emerging industry.

For a definition of the grant, I'll defer to this recently published report by our partners at the Office of Community and Economic Development at California State University, Fresno.

Mike Dozier, secretariat for the Office of Community and Economic Development, explained the reason why this effort is important in his introduction to the report: "As the San Joaquin Valley is facing difficult economic times, it has become more critical than ever before that we as a region continue our collaboration efforts. Through the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the public and private sectors are driving toward improving the quality of life for our residents."

The San Joaquin Valley as a whole has an unemployment rate nearing 20 percent, and that figure just represents those still on the books looking for work. The reality is likely much worse.

Here at the SJVCEO, we believe the clean energy sector is a potential game changer and we're trying to do what we can to inspire folks to jump on the entrepreneurial band-wagon and figure out how to make the Valley a kingpin in an emerging industry.

"The purpose of Valley Legacy is to bring the San Joaquin Valley’s K-12 system, higher education and work force investment board systems into alignment to better prepare people for occupations in high-growth industry sectors in the San Joaquin Valley," the report says.

Those sectors include:
  • Agribusiness, including food processing and biotechnology
  • Water technology
  • Renewable energy
  • Manufacturing
  • Supply chain management
The report continues: "In the current K-12 system, young people receive an education that is designed to maximize success in passing standardized tests. That’s a worthy goal; but most students come out of high school with no preparation for careers in the Valley.

"Most of those who don’t go on to college end up at some low-paying, dead-end job. Some students then go to the County Workforce Investment Boards, which act as a 'second-chance' system to train people for jobs with career advancement; but the WIBs receive funding to assist only a small percentage of those who apply.

"What needs to be improved is the 'first-chance' system. High-school students need to graduate with options: the option to go to a four-year college; to go to a community college; enter directly into the Valley workforce; or even to start their own business."

We think it could work. Advances in biofuel technology, increasing demand for solar power, fossil fuel price boosts and overall escalating consumption of electrical power make clean energy a worthy pursuit. With advances, much of it may be on par price-wise with traditional energy sources or even less.

Green power purchases trend upward

Last year I used no green power. Not a single kilowatt from a solar panel, biogas plant, wind turbine or hydropower operation.

So what, right?

That might be changing. No, I'm not putting solar on my roof. Too expensive. I've done the standard home efficiency upgrades -- insulation, windows, doors, new 95 percent efficient furnace. But that's another story.

Regular consumers like myself may soon be taking a cue from companies like Intel Corp., Kohl's Department Stores, Whole Foods Market and Starbucks and buying green power. The four companies are ranked as the best performers on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Top 50 list of green power purchasers.

No. 1 Intel, which retained its top spot from last year, has purchased a phenomenal 2.5 billion kilowatt hours of green power for 88 percent of its energy needs. The sources for this power were biomass, geothermal, small hydro, solar and wind.

No. 2 Kohl's has purchased 1.4 billion kWh of biomass, small hydro, solar and wind for all -- that's right, 100 percent -- of its energy needs.

Starbucks made a big jump over the past year to the No. 4 spot. Last year, it was No. 16. Whole Foods moved up a notch to No. 3, pushing out January 2010's third-place finisher PepsiCo. PepsiCo dropped off the list.

Usually green energy is purchased by paying extra for energy from wind power, hydro or solar. Those power purchases can be through utilities, brokers that specialize in green power or green power producers themselves. These purchases can be a little speculative as all energy is equal once it hits the grid, but the concept is sound.

Some green power users are self generators. The top three on the EPA list all include on-site generation.
"Generating our own green power in combination with purchased green power helps us to lessen our environmental footprint and become more sustainable," said Fisk Johnson, SC Johnson Chairman and CEO, in a statement. "As a fifth generation family company, it is part of our DNA. We are committed to doing what's right for our consumers, communities and our planet. Supporting clean sources of energy is a 'win-win' for everyone."

SC Johnson, the privately held maker of products like Windex and Glade, produced 25.5 million kWh of its own electricity, or 13 percent of its total, through biogas. The company built its first landfill-gas cogeneration turbine in Racine, Wis. to provide power for its largest factory, which is 2.2 million square feet.

EPA's on-site producers list is topped by Kimberly-Clark Corp., which produces 176.5 million kWh through biomass. No. 2 on the list is the City of San Diego, which produces 69 million kWh through solar, biogas and hydropower.

An interesting on-site listing is No. 18 Zotos International, which derived 60 percent of its power, the highest percentage among the Top 20, for 6.5 million kWh through two on-site wind turbines. Zotos, based in Darien, Conn., makes hair care products and wants to boost green power purchases to 100 percent of consumption by 2012.

Said Anthony Perdigao, Zotos chief sustainability officer, in a statement: "Generating green power helps our organization become more sustainable, while also sending a message to others across the U.S. that supporting clean sources of electricity is a sound business decision and an important choice in reducing climate risk."

Companies appear to be getting the message. Intel's purchases nearly doubled from two years ago, and the rest of the top purchasers increased their green power significantly from 2009.

California's Global Warming Solutions Act sets a rather lofty target of the state getting a third of its energy from renewables by 2020. The law has spurred growth in renewable power production and facilities construction. However, if the trend of corporate green power purchases continues, that goal may indeed be reachable.

With demand comes increased supply, lower prices for green power and opportunity for the sector in general.

Maybe we'll all be checking a box on our utility bill that says "green power" and pay a nominal fee. Or, better yet, no fee at all.

Energize the new year with green resolutions

The first of any new year offers new horizons, new choices and unlimited potential. Right? Well, maybe not.
Reality sets in usually after the first month. For instance, look at any health club. The first week of January, it'll be packed with sweating new members dutifully pounding out the miles on the stationary bike, treadmill or eliptical machine. But by mid February that influx often dries up and by the first of March, those newcomers are history.

Energy efficiency isn't nearly as tough to maintain. Buy a compact fluorescent light, screw it in and watch the savings. Upgrade your furnace and enjoy the reduced utility bills. Add solar panels and watch energy consumption drop into negative territory during the hot summer days.

This holds true for business owners as well as individuals. City governments also can benefit. It's equal opportunity. So look this year to clean energy. You never know what you'll find.

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.

Biofuels get federal boost

The Obama Administration just lit a fire under the biofuels market with renewal of a program that provides financial assistance to those involved in the industry.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program has been elevated from pilot status and will resume making payments to eligible producers, federal officials said today. Initially authorized in the 2008 Food Conservation and Energy Act, the program is "designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption."

"By producing more biofuels in America, we will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack before the National Press Club today in Washington, D.C.

The National 25x25 Steering Committee, which seeks to get 25 percent of U.S. energy from renewable resources like wind, solar and biofuels by 2025, commended Visack's announcement, according to

The effort is designed to promote production of fuel from renewable sources. Vilsack called domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, a national imperative. "The Obama Administration is aggressively supporting our nation's farmers, ranchers and producers of biofuels as they work to bring greater energy independence to America," Vilsack said.

The program seeks to assist farmers establish perennial biomass crops by offering to cover up to three quarters of production costs and provide payments for up to "five years for annual or non-woody perennial crops and up to 15 years for woody perennial crops."

In addition, the program also provides matching payments to transport materials sold to biomass conversion facilities. The facilities convert the materials into heat, power, biobased products or advanced biofuels.

Vilsack cited a study released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service that said biofuels would benefit the U.S. economy if biofuel production technology continues to advance and petroleum prices continue to rise as projected.

"By substituting domestic biofuels for imported petroleum, the United States would pay less for imports overall and receive higher prices for exports, providing a gain for the economy from favorable terms of trade. Improved technology and increased investment would enhance the ability of the U.S. economy to expand," the report said.

The program is good news for the likes of Sacramento, Calif.-based Pacific Ethanol Inc., which announced this week that it would reopen its Stockton ethanol plant in the next couple of months. California's new budget provided an incentive program that also may allow Pacific Ethanol's Madera County plant to reopen if market conditions allow, said Neil Koehler, president and CEO.

The USDA move also should provide a boost to cellulosic ethanol, algae and other processes under research and development.

Green Building Council Urges “No” Vote on Prop 23

The Central California chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council believes passage of Prop. 23, the so-called “dirty energy proposition,” will devastate the emerging green building and technology industry in the state.

The chapter recommends a “no” vote on the legislation, which would suspend AB 32, California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, until the state’s unemployment rate stays below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters – which has happened only three times since 1980.

Texas-based oil companies and a large coal company are pouring millions into the Prop. 23 efforts. The Green Building Council, however, believes the proposed legislation, which will be on the Nov. 2 ballot, will:

· Stifle a blossoming green industry in California. Since 2005, green jobs have grown 10 times faster than other industries. There are currently 500,000 green jobs in the state, of which 68,000 are in construction – an industry that has been hit hard in the recession;
· Put California’s new green building code at risk;
· Threatens green building and investment. The state has 12,000 clean-tech firms and received $10.4 billion in investment capital between 2006 and 2010.

The Central California chapter is urging members to get out and vote and to spread the message to 20 colleagues or friends through e-mail, USGBC CAC or StopDirtyEnergyProp on Facebook.

The “No on Prop 23” campaign has strong bi-partisan support. Both gubernatorial candidates, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, also oppose the legislation, as do many business, health, labor and environmental organizations.

U.S. invests big in new generation hydropower

Hydropower may take on entirely different dimension should the technologies receiving a new round of federal grants prove commercially viable.

The 27 projects selected Thursday for $37 million in clean energy cash include tidal-powered buoys, current-capturing undersea devices and various devices that generate power from waterflow wherever it can be harnessed.

"These innovative projects will help grow water power's contribution to America's clean energy economy," said Steven Chu, U.S. Department of Energy secretary, in a statement. He said it's the largest investment of federal money to date in marine and hydrokinetic technologies.

Investment in marine hydropower has grown significantly in recent years, following similar trends in other forms of alternative energy. Earlier this year, the British subsidiary of German utility E.ON AG brought its first wave energy hydropower device, capable of 750 kilowatts, to the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, Scotland, according to E.ON UK CEO Paul Golby called it "a milestone in marine technology."

However, much of the technology is still in that "wouldn't that be cool" stage, but the private sector sees promise and is investing big in a raft of concepts and competing systems. has a round up of more than a dozen.

The DOE-funded projects involve the private sector, universities, national laboratories and other groups. They harness waves, tides, currents, thermal gradients and rivers. The grants are meant to develop the technologies and leverage financial backing from other sources.

Major projects include:
  • A 150-kilowatt PowerBuoy system in the Oregon seas by Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies Inc. DOE is putting up $2.4 million, about half the project's cost.
  • Five tidal turbines from Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. that capture and harness cross flows at depths of up to 150 feet. DOE is putting up $10 million, about half the cost.
  • Two 10-meter diameter turbines in Puget Sound's Admiralty Inlet by Snohomish County Public Utility District in Everett, Wash. DOE is pitching in $10 million, about half the cost.

Other projects include a device that converts fast-moving river currents to energy by Pittsburgh-based Bayer Material Science LLC. DOE is giving it $240,000.

Also getting $240,000 is an "innovative air pressure device utilizing bi-directional turbines" to capture wave energy by Salem, Ore.-based M3 Wave Energy Systems LLC.

The Regents of the University of California in Davis received $158,000 to develop a reliable and cost-effective tidal turbine, while Makai Ocean Engineering Inc. in Kailua, Hawaii got $240,000 to study ocean thermal energy conversion.

Photo: Ocean Power Technologies Inc.'s Oregon ocean power device.

Grant expected for mobile biofuel producer

A Santa Barbara company that has developed a mobile biodiesel plant appears close to winning a California Energy Commission grant to further its technology.

Biodiesel Industries Inc. announced Tuesday that it had been selected for a $886,815 grant under the state's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program.

For the past seven years the company says it has worked with the U.S. Navy under a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement to "design, develop and deploy modular biodiesel production systems capable of processing the widest possible array of feedstocks."

The Biofuel Production Plants grant would provide funding to develop California-based biofuel plants and enhance existing plants with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the company says. Funding is contingent on other projects.

Biodiesel Industries' centerpiece is its ARIES Bioenergy Project. ARIES stands for automated real-time remote integrated energy system and networks the various components of biofuel production. Under the grant, officials say "the system will be adapted to fully integrate algaculture, anaerobic digestion of waste products and self-generated combined heat and power."

Russell Teall, president and founder of Biodiesel Industries, said, "The work that will be conducted under this grant will have broad-based implications in both the military and civilian sectors. Energy independence has positive economic, security and environmental impacts that apply to U.S. domestic conditions, to Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan, to impoverished rural areas in emerging economies.

"There is a global effect from creating renewable, sustainable energy systems."

Work primarily will take place at Naval Base Ventura County at Port Hueneme, Calif.

Photo: Biodiesel Industries Inc. portable production unit.

Modesto Composting Program Is Growing

A friend of mine has a compost pile in his back yard. He throws food scraps, coffee grounds and tree trimmings in it, and, after it does its magic, uses it as a soil conditioner.

Composting appears to be gaining in popularity. Maybe it's due to emerging interest in energy efficiency and self-sustainability. Maybe it's concern over greenhouse gases and climate change. Or maybe, in the case of the city of San Francisco, it's being forced upon them.

Whatever the reason, I love it. I hope it picks up steam, especially in the resource-rich San Joaquin Valley, where agriculture is king and farmers are true stewards of the land.

The Valley already has some programs. The Chaffee Zoo is composting and could start selling zoo poo, and Fresno State has a Green-Cycle program that produces 700 tons of compost per year using animal waste, some food scraps and green waste. All Fresno State compost is used on fields and lanscaping, but the campus could eventually sell Bulldog compost through the Gibson Farm Market, said Michael L. Mosinski, director of agricultural operations.

One city that has embraced the concept is Modesto, which operates its own compost facility and sells the final product, MO-gro-PRO, in 36-pound bags at its senior center and the composting facility.

City officials say they shave $1.4 million per year off landfill costs. The Modesto composting plant takes in 150 tons of yard waste per day. There, employees sort the waste and remove any trash put into bins by mistake. Nutrient-rich yard waste is mixed with chipped branches to add carbon content and, after grinding, is put into windrows.

The rows are watered and turned to encourage the growth of helpful organisms, which turn the waste into a humus-like product. The temperature of the rows range from 136 degrees to 150 degrees, which kills weed seeds and bacteria.

The entire process takes about five months. Kind of like fine wine.

Compost can be used in vegetable gardens, flower beds, and for tree planting and new lawns. Even established lawns benefit from a top dressing.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.


Self-Sustaining City Generate Excess Electricity

Some clean-energy advocates think Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley - with its ample sunshine, expanse of flat land, lots of farm and animal waste, super-high power bills (mine nearly equaled my house payment last month) and proximity to transmission lines - has all the ingredients to become energy self sufficient.

Which brings to mind this article I read on Huffington Post. There is a neighborhood in Germany that produces four times the energy it uses, in part through thoughtful planning and careful placement of rooftop solar arrays.

It's not only net zero. It's net positive. Read about it here.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

The Coolest School in the nation

Vermont's Green Mountain College nabbed the top spot in Sierra magazine's fourth annual Coolest Schools environmental sustainability ranking, while two California schools, Stanford placed fifth and University of California Irvine sixth.

Green Mountain -- a school of about 900 students -- was one my colleague suggested and recommended to his daughter, who ultimately chose the University of Oregon, which didn't crack the top 100.

The University of California Merced placed 39th. Other California schools included UC Santa Cruz at No. 11, UC Davis No. 16, UCLA No. 25, Pomona College No. 31, UC Berkeley No. 32 and UC Santa Barbara 44.

The rankings were based on responses to an 11-page questionnaire and how colleges measured up in terms of commitment to sustainability. Energy supply carried the most significance, followed by efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, financial investments and a catchall section titled "other initiatives."

Where appropriate, standards like the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification were used, the magazine said.

The Coolest Schools list is the cover story for the September/October issue of Sierra magazine, a publication of the Sierra Club.

"Green Mountain College excels in most categories, and it's the MVP when it comes to creativity. The campus gets power and heat from biomass and biogas (a.k.a. cow power)," the magazine said.

Green Mountain has a new combined heat and power biomass plant and participates in Central Vermont Public Service's Cow Power program, which converts cow manure on Vermont farms to methane gas, the school said in a statement. The new plant will use local wood chips to provide 85 percent of the school's heat and generate 20 percent of its electricity.

"Green Mountain established its environmental liberal arts mission in 1995, so we are an 'early adapter' in responding to the social and environmental challenges of our times," said Green Mountain President Paul J. Fonteyn. "Through our Environmental Liberal Arts program, we've sought to provide an education that emphasizes sustainability across all disciplines. This recognition is a testament to all the hard work of a whole generation of students, faculty and staff."

Avital Binshtock and Kyle Boelte wrote in a post on that the magazine shifted priorities in this year's survey after consulting the Club's conservation experts, "who encouraged us to give more weight to each school's energy supply."

That adjustment meant this year's top 20 includes nine newcomers and elevated Green Mountain, which placed 35th last year. No school scored a perfect 100 score. Green Mountain came closest with 88.6.

"Although we worked hard to apply rigorous, objective standards when evaluating the questionnaires, a certain amount of subjectivity was inevitable, and we hope that readers (and the growing legion of college sustainability officers) will bear that in mind," wrote Binshtock and Boelte. "The point, after all, is to create competition, to generate awareness and to celebrate that so many colleges even have a sustainability officer."

Through this project and several other initiatives, Green Mountain officials said they expect to be the first college in the country to reach carbon neutrality after having reduced carbon emissions by more than half. The college also received a score of 98 out of a perfect 99 in the Princeton Review's annual college "green" rankings and its Students for Academic and Green Engagement, or SAGE, Hall was designated as LEED gold certified building by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Princeton Review gave UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara honor roll status in its green rankings for schools that achieve perfect ratings.

Free electricity: fact or myth?

Just in the past week, I've seen or heard several references to the mythic magnetic power generator, a device that purports to produce "free" electricity.

The concept is fascinating. Proponents say these devices could create enough power to run the average home or business. Should that prove true, implementing the technology at homes and businesses across the United States could cast aside reliance on Middle East energy producers.

The latest reference comes from a tweet posted by Mike Stewart also known as @greenwind. Stewart gave heads up to a post by Tyler Thomas on that says, "Due to suppression of this idea from the big corporations, the plans for building a free energy generator which could change the world have never been out on the open."

That's not altogether true, at least from what I've been able to find in a rather unscientific search on the Web. There's a lot out there, most of it very grassroots, about the subject for and against it. Some deride the concept, while others hail it as the second coming and offer instructions on how to create a device.

Lutec Australia PTY Ltd. has been trying to get a product to market for years and at one point in a video posted to said its magnetic generators would be available in 2008. That apparently never took place, and the company's current site,, now shows nothing more than a picture of its latest prototype.

Scrambling across the Web for more references to this product will produce all sorts of hits. A circle of my friends and I from East High in Anchorage stay in touch via group emails and turn up this sort of thing frequently. A number of us are into clean energy and wild ideas.

The king of magnetic power has to be Joseph Newman, who appeared on the Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and multiple other programs with his free energy device decades ago. Newman lapsed into obscurity after his efforts to patent his device were rejected by the U.S. Patent Office and his creation was labeled a perpetual motion machine, according to

Who knows where the concept will go? I suspect a lot of static.

But I liked this quote from the narrator of a Lutec video post: "Come help us green up, and clean up, our planet."

Photo: Lutec Australia PTY Ltd. prototype.

The Top 5 Municipal Users Of Renewable Power

The EPA's newest ranking of Green Power Communities is out - and Santa Clara, in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, tops the list.

More than 163 million kilowatt-hours of Santa Clara's power usage came from renewable sources in 2009. That was about 6% of the total energy usage.

Here is the rest of the top 5:

  • Gresham, Ore., 125.8 million kWh, or 12% of total energy use;

  • Corvallis, Ore., 100.3 million kWh, 15%;

  • Bellingham, WA., 91.8 million kWh, 13%;

  • Beaverton, Ore., 71 million kWh, 5%.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.