renewable energy

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

The wEEkly Update

For Local Governments and their partners

December 18, 2017


Resources and Opportunities
California ISO launches expanded online data resource
Webinar Recording: The 20% stretch code: a new energy standard for cities & states
Case Study Report: Cities Are Ready for 100% Clean Energy
Find more resources and opportunities

Job Announcements

Upcoming events
Free Calif. Energy Efficiency Standards Trainings for Building Inspectors - Nov-Feb
State Meeting: Energy Standards Outreach & Education - Dec 12 & 21
Webinar: Upcoming Title 20 Lighting Standards - Dec 21
Public Workshop: HVAC Research and Development – Dec 21
Webinar: California legislative outlook 2018 - Jan 24
Forum: The Promise of Microgrids - Jan 25
17th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference - Feb. 1-3
2018 EPIC Symposium: Accelerating Clean Energy Innovation - Feb 7
Find more events

Copyright © 2017 Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator, All rights reserved.
The wEEkly update for Local Governments and their partners.

Our mailing address is:
Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator
980 9th St., Suite 1700
Sacramento, CA 95814

LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

wEEkly Update


Funding Wizard | Energy Standards Online Resource Center | Energy Code Ace
CAISO Today's Outlook

Join the Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative for a webinar on local energy codes on Tomorrow, August 29th from 1:00-2:00 pm. On behalf of the IOU Statewide Codes and Standards Program, Misti Bruceri, Principal of Misti Bruceri & Associates, LLC, will be discussing technical assistance services and other resources that are available to local governments when developing local energy ordinances. Click here to register!
The CPUC wll be hosting the Energy Data Access Committee (EDAC) meeting focusing on local government energy data access on August 31st, from 10:00-11:30am. A draft EDAC recommendation for opening an Order Instututuing Rulemaking to address local energy energy data access issues will be discussed. Click here to find webex and call-in information 

News and Opportunities

Renewable Energy Aggregated Procurement
Created in 2014, School Project for Utility Rate's (SPURR) Renewable Energy Aggregated Procurement (REAP) Program is an innovative aggregated solar buying program

RFP - Renewable Resource Assessment
Contra Costa County is seeking a consultant to assess the potential for renewable resource - solar, wind, biomass, biogas - throughout the County.

Guide for Funding of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
The Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) has created a guide to help you navigate the funding options for plug-in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

US/EU Cities Pair Around Urban Sustainability
As part of the International Urban Cooperation (IUC) initiative, the European Union has today launched a call for US cities to apply to be paired with a city in the EU around issues in sustainable urban development.

Career Opportunities

Utility Energy Analyst - Alameda Municipal Power

Program Manager - City of San Diego

Environmental Sustainability Manager - City of Woodland

Click here to find previous job announcements

SEEC Calendar 
Click the SEEC Calendar link to view all upcoming events.

10/15-10/18 Behavior, Energy & Climate Change Conference
A conference focused on understanding the behavior and decision-making of individuals and organizations and using that knowledge to accelerate our transition to an energy-efficient and low-carbon future.

Cary Garcia Jr.
Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

wEEkly update


Funding Wizard | Energy Standards Online Resource Center | Energy Code Ace
CAISO Today's Outlook

News and Opportunities

Santa Barbara becomes 30th US city to commit to 100% renewable energy
"I'm proud that Santa Barbara just adopted a 100% renewable energy goal and is joining other cities across the nation leading the way on clean energy at the local level,” said Mayor Helene Schneider.

California Climate Action Planning Conference - August 24 & 25
Registration is open for an innovative and in-depth conference in beautiful San Luis Obispo!

Ad Hoc Energy Efficiency Metrics Follow-Up Meeting - June 14
CAECC meeting on metrics to evaluate energy efficiency programs

IEPR Joint Agency Staff Workshop on State-Level Energy Roadmaps - June 13
Energy efficiency, storage, demand response, and vehicle integration will be discussed.

CPUC Voting Meeting in Sacramento - June 15
The CPUC will have a public voting meeting in Sacramento where public comment is encouraged.

SEEC Webinar: Creating a Carbon Fund - June 21
The webinar will include details on how to set up a Carbon Fund including the steps to do so and typical challenges to implementation.

California Leading the Way!

In the Texas vs. California rivalry, California is winning
Even the Houston Chronicle recognizes we are in the lead!

California defies Trump with Chinese tech pact
"California is the leading economic state in America and we are also the pioneering state on clean technology, cap and trade, electric vehicles and batteries, but we can't do it alone."

Career Opportunities

Planning Technician - Sierra Business Council

Resource Conservation Specialist - County of San Mateo

Sustainability Specialist - Hayward

Click here to find previous job announcements

SEEC Calendar 
Click the SEEC Calendar link to view all upcoming events.

6/20 - Webinar: Achieving ZNE Goals with Energy Storage
The Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) invites city officials, contractors, and commercial building owners to attend a free webinar on the benefits of on-site energy storage technologies and its impact on zero net energy (ZNE) goals.

6/21 - Pathway to 2050
Advanced Energy Economy's annual California energy policy event brings together an influential group of advanced energy business leaders and state policy-makers to discuss opportunities to accelerate California's economy through the growth of advanced energy.

6/27 - BayREN Forum: Local Model Solar Ordinance
The forum will provide local government staff, building professionals, and solar industry representatives an opportunity to surface concerns and challenges regarding the Energy Commission's Model Solar Ordinance and local adoption process.

7/28-7/29 - Zero Carbon Zero Net Energy Redwood Retreat
Join Industry Leaders As they present case studies and technical deep dives on ZNE and Zero Carbon strategies.

10/15-10/18 Behavior, Energy & Climate Change Conference
A conference focused on understanding the behavior and decision-making of individuals and organizations and using that knowledge to accelerate our transition to an energy-efficient and low-carbon future.

That's all for this week. Have a great weekend!

Cary Garcia Jr.
Statewide Local Government Energy Efficiency Best Practices Coordinator

Statewide LG EE Best Practices: Weekly Update

Here are your wEEkly updates:

1. SB 350 Barriers Study: A California Energy Commission workshop on low-income barriers to accessing the energy efficiency and renewable energy goals of SB 350 is going on this morning!

2. San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Summit 10/19: Save the Date! The San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Summit, featuring a full day of speakers and breakout sessions on electric vehicles, natural gas alternatives, and more, will be held October 19th.

3. Joint Agency Workshop 8/23 on 2030 Target Scoping Plan: California Energy Commission (CEC), California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and California Air Resources Board (ARB) are jointly hosting a public workshop on the process to update the 2030 Target Scoping Plan.

4. Workshop 8/29, Electricity Reliability in SoCal: The California Energy Commission will conduct a workshop to review efforts to ensure electricity reliability in Southern California resulting from the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (San Onofre) and impending retirement of several fossil generating units using once-through cooling (OTC) technologies.
5. Vehicle Technology Program Review 8/22: CEC Commissioner Janea Scott, Lead Commissioner on Transportation of the California Energy Commission, will conduct a workshop to discuss the use of metrics within the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP).

6. New EPA Portfolio Manager Feature Helps Buildings Save: The EPA has launched a waste and materials tracking feature in its Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which is a free benchmarking and tracking tool for commercial building owners and managers. (New to Portfolio Manager? Check out resources here.)

7. Sustainability, Prosperity, and Security: A new book from United States military leadership, “The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America’s Prosperity, Security and Sustainability in the 21st Century,” tells the story of a grand strategy, born within the Pentagon, to recapture America’s greatness at home and abroad by elevating sustainability as a strategic imperative.

8. USDOE Awards $ for Local Data-Driven Energy Planning: In support of cities’ efforts to reduce energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of energy efficiency technologies, the Energy Department selected three projects this week to help cities integrate energy analysis and data into their strategic decision making across all clean energy sectors. Learn more about the projects and the findings through its “Cities Leading through Energy Analysis and Planning (Cities-LEAP)” program.

9. New Green Leasing and Commercial Real Estate EE Resources: Looking to engage and support the commercial real estate sector in your jurisdiction as they explore the value of energy efficiency in real estate? The Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) are arming the commercial real estate industry with a new set of tools that enable tenants to more effectively seek out and secure high-performance spaces that are in line with the tenant’s organizational goals, objectives, and budgets. (Get more resources on green leasing uncovered through recent local government asks.)

10. New York Joins California’s 50% by ‘30 Goal: Last week saw an order by the New York Public Service Commission requiring that 50 percent of the state’s electricity must from clean, renewable sources like solar and wind power by 2030 – this makes nearly one-fifth of the country’s population in pursuit of a 50% renewable goal.

11. Cities Consider Increasing Renewables: While on renewables: the cities of Solana Beach and La Mesa were in the news this week as they weigh using a community choice aggregation (CCA) model to increase their jurisdictions’ use of renewable energy and lower their carbon footprints. (More on CCAs here.)

12. CEC Blueprint Newsletter: Did you know that the California Energy Commission documents the most common questions to their Energy Code Hotline, and answers them in their Blueprint newsletter? The Blueprint newsletter for July/August is out, and provides guidance on a number of key issues – including new lighting compliance options, pipe insulation, solar ready requirements for single family homes, air-to-water heat pump systems, and more. Share with your building departments and other building efficiency stakeholders in your community!

13. Energy Efficient Codes Make Financial Sense: “Average homeowners are the biggest beneficiaries of more energy efficient building codes, says Daniel Bressett of the Alliance to Save Energy. Homeowners consistently state their preference for energy efficiency features, a point made again in the housing survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders.” Get more coverage and resources for explaining the financial value of energy efficiency in this newsletter piece from Zero Energy Project.

14. Cutting Poverty through EE and More: Addressing income inequality and affordability is a central and growing issue for many local governments. A new policy paper, the “Urban Opportunity Agenda,” from the Center for Neighborhood Technology proposes that poverty can be cut through simply cutting core household expenses – including energy.

15. Model Released to Pursue EE, ZNE: A tool to model the time dependent value (TDV) of energy for use in planning for the 2019 energy code’s steps toward zero net energy is now available on the CEC’s website.

16. Airport Achieves Carbon Neutrality: The Dalllas Fort Worth Airport is the first in the United States to achieve carbon neutrality! Learn how they did it and more here.

17. Microgrid Conference: The Microgrids Convergence Conference will be held October 25th-26th in San Mateo and will consist of two, unique, content-rich days. Learn about conference content, speakers, and more.

18. Microgrid Financing: Microgrids Conference event sponsors are offering a free recording of the webinar "Financing Microgrid Distributed Energy Efficiency Solutions."

19. CEC Workshop on Title 20 Appliance Efficiency: For sharing with your jurisdiction’s retailers and businesses; The California Energy Commission will host a webinar on August 17th, 2016 presenting focused on the needs of retailers, wholesalers, importers, and internet vendors.

20. Vehicle/Grid Demonstration Funding: The Pre–Application Workshop Presentation and WebEx Recording for GFO–16–303, Advanced Vehicle–Grid Integration Research and Demonstration, is now available on the California Energy Commission (CEC)’s website.

21. Job announcement: San Luis Obispo has extended the deadline to apply for its open Senior Energy Planner position! Learn more here.

As always, you can keep track of relevant events by connecting to the EE Events Calendar, and find more resources being added daily on the EECoordinator website – including past WEEkly Updates

That is all for this week!

What is biomass electricity, and what waste to energy & biomass in California means for you and me.

What is biomass electricity? 
Biomass electricity is drawn from combusting or decomposing organic matter.

There are about 132 waste-to-energy plants in California, with a total capacity of almost 1,000 megawatts. These plants power our homes and businesses with electricity from waste matter that would have been released into the atmosphere, added fuel to forest fires, and burdened our landfills.

Why is biomass electricity important?
Using biomass to produce electricity reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, the nation's primary energy sources for electricity, and the largest contributors to air pollution and greenhouse gases. We will eventually run out of fossil fuels. Biomass electricity offers alternatives with many benefits:
  • Our supply of biomass is renewable, meaning it will not run out.
  • Electricity produced by biomass reduces the threat of global climate change.
  • Using biomass waste eliminates the need to place it in landfills.
  • Clearing biomass from wooded areas helps prevent forest fires.
  • Using by-product methane gases to produce electricity eliminates odor and reduces air pollution in surrounding areas.
Waste to Energy & Biomass in California...
Californians create nearly than 2,900 pounds of household garbage and industrial waste each and every second; a total of 85.2 million tons of waste in 2005 (according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board)! Of that, 43.2 million tons is recovered and recycled or used to make energy, but 42 million tons has to be disposed in landfills. Thanks to advances in technology, waste known as biomass, is put to valuable use producing electricity.

In 2007, 6,236 gigawatt hours of electricity in homes and businesses was produced from biomass: burning forestry, agricultural, and urban biomass; converting methane-rich landfill gas to energy (LFGTE); and processing wastewater and dairy biogas into useful energy. Biomass power plants produced 2.1 percent of the total electricity in California in 2007, or about one-fifth of all the renewable energy.

Bioenergy is renewable energy derived from biological sources, to be used for heat, electricity, or vehicle fuel. Biofuel derived from plant materials is among the most rapidly growing renewable energy technologies.

State Policy on Biomass and Biofuels
The Governor directed several state agencies - including the Energy Commission - to take major steps toward the widespread use of biomass to produce clean, renewable transportation fuels or electricity. This directive helped to reinvigorate the Bioenergy Interagency Working Group through the help of the California Biomass Collaborative.

The Bioenergy Interagency Working Group -- lead by Commissioner Jim Boyd of the California Energy Commission, and includes the Air Resources Board (ARB), California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), California Public Utilities Commission, California Resources Agency, Department of Food and Agriculture, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Department of General Services, Integrated Waste Management Board, and the State Water Resources Control Board -- made a recommendation to the Governor in March 2006 on biomass and biofuels.

That report, Recommendations for a Bioenergy Action Plan for California , can be downloaded from their website. (PDF file, 56 pages, 4.5 MB).

The Governor issued an Executive Order S-06-06 (PDF file), signed on April 25, 2006, dealing with biomass and biofuels. Two important points stated that:
  • By 2010, 20 percent of its biofuels need to be produced within California; increasing to 40 percent by 2020 and 75 percent by 2050.
  • By 2010, 20 percent of the renewable electricity should be generated from biomass resources within the state; maintaining this level through 2020.
The Governor then in July 2006, released California's Bioenergy Action Plan (PDf file, 11 pages, 2.1 MB). The plan's objectives included:
  • Establish California as a market leader in technology innovation, sustainable biomass development, and market development for bio-based products.
  • Coordinate research, development, demonstration, and commercialization efforts across federal and state agencies. ----Develop biomass roadmap.
  • Align existing regulatory requirements to encourage production and use of California's biomass resources.
  • Facilitate market entry for new applications of bioenergy including electricity, biogas, and biofuels.
  • Maximize the contributions of bioenergy toward achieving the state's petroleum reduction, climate change, renewable energy, and environmental goals.( )
Photo Credit:

Shift in Energy Balance Includes Renewables, Efficiency

Editors note: when I read this, and then watched the videos from the WEO launch (included for your viewing pleasure below) it took all my self control to not jump out of my chair and scream "BOOYEAH".  And yes, I even thought of calling some EE non-believers out there and booyeah-ing them, however I'm a lady first and foremost, so I kept my glee to myself. 

Now, more from Dee...

All of us here at the SJVCEO have been preaching to anyone who will listen about the power of energy conservation. Well, now we can back that claim up with some pretty substantial clout. The International Energy Agency (IEA) released the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook (WEO) on November 12th. In that report the IEA states that North America leads the shift in global energy balance. That shift includes a movement to renewable energy and energy efficiency that will have a major impact on global energy and climate trends. North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world, yet the potential also exists for a similarly transformative shift in global energy efficiency. According to the WEO, we can achieve energy savings equal to nearly a fifth of global demand in 2010. In other words, energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits.

The report calls out six areas that need to be addressed in order to make the “efficient World Scenario,” a scenario that shows what energy efficiency improvements can be achieved simply by adopting measures that are justified in economic terms. The steps include making energy efficiency clearly visible along with its economic gains, as well as including efficiency concerns into decision making in government, industry, and society. The IEA report urges policy leaders to deploy a mix of regulations to discourage the least energy efficient approaches, while incentivizing the most energy efficient actions.

The report also projects that renewable energy sources could become the world's second-largest source of power generation by 2015, closing in on coal as the primary source by 2035. The projection noted that this is based on continued subsidies, which amounted to $88 billion in 2011.

--Dee Cox

photo credit: International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2012,

Believe it or not: setting sail on solar

So, believe it or not, this isn't the first post on sailing and solar; back in February my brother-in-law shared how he and my sister keep the Play Actor green on the big blue (you can link to their blog here).  However, I think this tech is beyond what Bud has going on their Baba 35!

Japanese tech company, Eco Marine Power is working on and experimenting with EnergySail which would be a renewable energy driven sail that could be fitted to traditional fuel powered vessels.  Anything from large carriers to patrol ships could one day be powered by the sun!  

The device is being tested in a lab in Osaka with focus on control systems and command interface testing.  EnergySail could see open seas as early as 2013.

Original CNET story here.

Photo credit: Eco Marine Power

Whitepapers: PV inverter performance in desert-like locations

Wow, unique desert challenges addressed through rigorous testing!

On April 25, 2012 SMA America, LLC publish a study on how outdoor installed PV inverters held up under extreme weather conditions found in the desert. Conditions such as sandstorms and enormous temperature swings produce a whole new set of challenges for developers of PV inverters. Dust and sand is prevalent in the ambient air and tends to create serious obstacles in solar PV inverters installed outdoors, but with the new technology developed and rigid testing the inverter’s seals protected it from harmful dust deposits.

I don’t know about you but this stuff gets me excited. I’m really enjoying watching alternative energy develop in front of me.  We are indeed watching history in the making, but let’s not forget that energy conservation, although not the most attractive option is the best way to become energy independent. Check out the full story at the link below.

--Dee Cox

Photo credit:

Who? How? When? Is Solar ever going to be really affordable?

Recently I checked out how much it would cost me to put solar on my house. To my surprise, it was much more than I wanted to spend, especially since I’m not convinced that I really want to stay there for more than five more years. The economics of it just didn't add up. I had question like: Who would pay for the remaining balance if I decided to sell the house before the solar units were paid for?  Would the house actually meet an appraisal value that would include the cost of solar in the sales price? 

Unfortunately, the financing options for me weren't exactly attractive and leasing didn't appeal to me either.  Lucky for me and you, the Department of Energy (DOE) has just launched a new competition that could solve my problem.

The DOE has developed the SunShot Initiative, a collaborative national initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.  The first step in this aggressive endeavor focuses on removing municipal barriers such as permitting and structural engineering cost (which SJVCEO is a named partner with Optony, Inc.under The Solar Roadmap). 
Now, the DOE is going one step further by launching the SunShot prize competition, a very unique competition. This competition is working to install solar energy systems at a fraction of today’s price. The SunShot Initiative is reducing the installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75% and will drive widespread, large-scale adoption of this renewable energy technology while restoring U.S. leadership in the global clean energy race.


Photo Credit:

Believe it or not: schmorgishborg!

Today's BION is a cheat.  Frankly, I'm just not up to it as I have my second sinus infection in a month and the fifth for the whole summer (yes, it's still over 90 degrees here so it's summer in my book!). So, today you're getting a schmorgishborg of BIONs from headlines that excited me--or as I've previously mentioned, something my husband found on Reddit and then set to me.

Believe it or not: Tesla goes long range with new super charger.

Believe it or not: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution for Science report that there is enough energy available in winds to meet all of the world’s demand! 

Believe it or not: San Franciso considers public power market, 100% renewable.

Believe it or not: First North American tidal turbine goes live in Maine.

Converting Useless Land To Productive Property

For more than a decade, the 160-acre Crazy Horse Sanitary Landfill was a repository of some pretty icky stuff. So much rubber, oil and solvents were dumped on the property five miles outside Salinas that it was declared a Superfund site and closed to the public in 2009.

More than 500 miles to the southeast is the infamous Stringfellow landfill in Riverside County, where 34 million gallons of acid, solvent, heavy metal and pesticide-manufacturing byproducts were dumped over 17 acres from 1956 to 1972. In 1983, it achieved the dubious distinction of California's most serious hazardous waste site, and today contains not one, not two but three groundwater extraction and treatment systems operated by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

It's too bad those properties are so polluted that they can't be put to good use. Or can they? In an intriguing study, the federal government is assessing the possibility of developing renewable-energy sources, including wind and solar power, on those sites and 24 others. A total of five contaminated or potentially contaminated sites totaling almost 29,000 acres in California are being reviewed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy are evaluating Superfund, brownfields, former landfill or mining sites and even former gas stations through the new "Re-Powering America's Land Initiative."

It is hoped that some of the blighted property could be used to generate solar, wind, biomass or geothermal power. "These studies are the first step to transforming these sites from eyesores today to community assets tomorrow," Mathy Stanislaus, an EPA assistant administrator said.

Here's a link to the original press release, and one to a list of sites being studied.

This isn't a new idea. Restoration of brownfields is a serious mission of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which has restored sites to commercial use. But using them as power sources is not as common, although a six-megawatt solar array powers the restoration of an Aerojet General Corporation Superfund dump near Sacramento. And in Chicago, the Exelon City Solar facility - built on an abandoned commercial site called a "brownfield" - is the largest urban solar power plant in the United States.

The Superfund toxic landfills are pretty horrible. The environmental protection regulators call them "the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites identified by the EPA for cleanup." Brownfields aren't much better: "They are properties at which expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence of contaminants."

Double Ick.

But toxic sites can be ideal for clean energy. "They often can leverage existing utility infrastructure, and this redevelopment may be allowed under existing zoning, " federal officials said in a news release.

The former Fort Ord military base in Marina is the largest side being assessed in California. The most remote is 253 acres in tiny Alpine County. The former open-pit sulfur mine is at 7,000 feet elevation on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada.

This really is a great idea. California has one of the most ambitious renewable-power mandates in the nation, and targeting tainted soil that can't be used for anything else toward that effort makes sense.

Video by State Department of Toxic Substances Control

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.

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.

Can China hijack green energy?

Rare earth may determine the future of clean energy.

I'm not talking about Gil Bridges and Ray Monette of the rock band Rare Earth, noted for such hits as "Get Ready" and "I Just Want to Celebrate," although that does make a sort of poetic sense. The band is back together and touring, after all.

No, I'm talking about world domination by China of an industry so important, it's success or failure may mean the difference between survival and mass evacuation in low-lying countries like Bangladesh.

Much of the clean energy industry depends upon extremely obscure elements that have come to be known as rare earth. They have names like lanthanum, cerium, yttrium and neodymium and are used in the manufacture of electric car batteries, wind turbines and solar panels. China has spent the past several years locking up supply of these elements, planning ahead and banking on their value escalating.

And the stakes are high. The recent study, "Energy Policy," by Stanford University professors Mark Delucchi and Mark Jacobson says wind, water and solar could supply all of our energy needs in 20 to 40 years. While that may be unlikely given today's energy mix, the sector is sure to increase despite the domination of increasingly costly and damaging fossil fuels.

Rare earth elements, while relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust, are hard to find in "minable concentrations," as the U.S. Geological Survey explains in its 2010 rare earth report. Thus the problem -- and the name.

China, according to USGS, has reserves of 55 million metric tons, while the United States has 19 million metric tons. Both countries dominate known reserves. However, China is better positioned to take advantage of its mines.

"China accounts for 97 percent of the worldwide rare earth metal production and the country's new export quotas have caused prices to skyrocket," write Euan Sadden and Kerry-Ann Adamson of Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research in the May 2011 report "Rare Earth Metals in the Cleantech Industry."

That means if a company wants to build batteries, wind turbines or solar panels, it likely must get its materials from China. However, the Chinese are hardly slouches at trade and their manufacturers have already begun to dominate production of solar panels. Analysts say they intend to the same with the rest of the cleantech industry.

U.S. and European companies looking to build the massive collector sites for wind may find themselves with no other competitive alternative other than purchasing from Chinese suppliers. And for an emerging industry dependent upon falling prices for more universal adoption reliance on a single source could be bad. Real bad.

Ian Fletcher, author of "Free Trade Doesn't Work" and Huffington Post blogger, frames the debate in simple terms.

"Why are they important? For example, the so-called rare earths among these materials are needed to make the super-strong magnets that are needed whenever you want to mechanically generate (or consume) electricity efficiently," Fletcher writes in a recent post. And he says that according to estimates in the recent book "Red Alert," by Stephen Leeb, a 3-megawatt wind turbine contains about 2 tons of rare earth metals.

"Even a humble Toyota Prius contains 22 pounds of lanthanum in its battery," he says. "No lanthanum, no electric cars."

But the news isn't all bad.

Fletcher noted that Congress in 2010 passed the Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act, which states that it is meant to "to assure the long-term, secure, and sustainable supply of rare earth materials sufficient to satisfy the national security, economic well-being, and industrial production needs of the United States."

This apparently kept the Mountain Pass mine in California's Mohave desert in domestic hands. Fletcher said Australia similarly checked a Chinese buyout in 2009.

Activity at the Mountain Pass mine, according to USGS, resumed operation in 2007, producing refined rare earth products. The federal agency's report also detailed efforts to develop other commercial-grade mine sites, saying that investment and exploration "surged" in 2010. Sites included Bear Lodge in Wyoming; Diamond Creek in Idaho; Elk Creek in Nebraska; Hoidas Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada; Lemhi Pass in Idaho-Montana; and Nechalacho (Thor Lake) in Northwest Territories, Canada.

Other sites included Dubbo Zirconia in New South Wales, Australia; Kangankunde in Malawi; Mount Weld in Western Australia, Australia; and Nolans Project in Northern Territory, Australia.

The jury's still out. China's in serious production mode as only a state-controlled economy can dictate. But U.S. capitalism has a way of overcoming challenges. The clean energy industry, at least from a purely job creation perspective, offers some very good opportunities worldwide.

It would be nice for the home team to win this one or at least become a World Cup scale competitor.

In the meantime, the band Rare Earth offers this bit of wisdom I'd like to see implemented: "Fe Fi Fo Fo Fum, Look out baby now here I come."

So you say you want solar? Here's how it could work

Cities and counties in California's San Joaquin Valley want relief from crippling energy bills.

Like the rest of the nation, they’ve been hit hard by a sinking economy and increasing electric rates. At least the tornadoes, flooding and general havoc from winter storms left them alone.

An option looking increasingly bright is solar. But it’s a complex decision and not one that should be made without learning as much as possible.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization has a draft plan to explain solar options to cities, counties and school districts and help them save the most energy and money. The concept is one I've been thinking about for several months.

Of course, it's something on the drawing board. We're a small nonprofit without the ability to launch such ambitious project without funding. Tracking down some money will be my next step.

My thought is the utilities may like the idea since they need to draw a third of their energy from renewable resources by 2020. And solar companies may also like the idea. Perhaps we could put a consortium together and offer discounts for packaged projects.

Who knows?

It's working title is the Valley Solar Solutions Project, and it would involve creating an inventory of sites, assessing needs and determining what size solar facility would offset power costs based on a 12-month analysis of energy usage.

In my dealings with officials administering American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grants, most just want the facts on solar: How much does it cost? Where would an array go? And how much does it save?

During a visit to a small city near Modesto, officials said just one of their water pumps consumes about $56,000 worth of electricity in a peak month. During the summer, the pump runs 24 hours a day to supply thirsty residents. A solar array at that pump could put a big dent into that electrical draw.

Under this proposal, staff would provide answers to dilemmas like that, whether the question is about how much power is generated by 40 acres of solar panels at a waste water treatment plant or eight solar cells at a remote well.

In recent months, and I don't know why, perhaps it's oil prices, cities and counties increasingly have been asking SJVCEO staff about solar. What would it take to install? What about financing? What subsidies are available? Can we put it on the jail?

Sometimes answers can be a little murky. Big projects are tough and often require navigating a lot of government red tape. Smaller projects, such as those on a building, are easier.

Were we able to get this Valley Solar Solutions Project off the ground, staff would:

1) Provide a detailed list of the steps involved in getting regulatory approval and estimate the time and effort required for a project to be completed.
2) Identify sites – such as buildings, plants and energy-hungry pumps – that could benefit from solar installations.
3) Calculate the number of solar panels needed for each site and estimate installation costs.
4) Provide estimated energy savings in kilowatt hours and dollars of purchase, lease or power-purchase agreements.
5) Provide case studies of how other jurisdictions have adopted solar into their power mix.
5) Issue a detailed report of options.

This model also could be applied to agriculture. Staff could inventory farms, assess energy needs and provide available options.

Does the idea have merit? Leave a comment or contact me at

Grants Available For Farmers, Rural Businesses To Test Clean Energy

Farmers and small rural businesses who gain at least half of their income from agriculture operations can apply for federal grants to test renewable power.

The Rural Energy for America Program will provide funds for feasibility studies on certain types of renewable-energy systems. Projects based on solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydro and hydrogen are among those eligible for consideration. The applicant must own the project, and operate it in a rural region.

The Rural Energy for America Program is designed to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption. The 75 grants are awarded on a competitive basis and can be up to 25% of total eligible project costs. Grants are limited to $50,000 for renewable-energy feasibility studies.

Applications are due June 30. Learn more at this link.

More California Farmers Embracing Renewable Energy

As major users of energy, America's farms are natural candidates for renewable-energy efforts. That is especially true here in the San Joaquin Valley, where farming is a $20 billion per- year enterprise, temperatures hit triple digits, power bills are sky high and air pollution ranks among the worst in the nation.

As it turns out, farmers, especially in California, have made substantial gains in the use of alternative-energy sources. With about 25% of all facilities, California led the nation in 2009 with 1,956 farms and ranches producing renewable energy, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Solar dominated, with 1,906 California farmers using photovoltaic and thermal solar panels. The majority of those - more than 64,000 panels - were installed since 2005. Wind energy was used on 134 farms in California, while methane digesters were installed and used on 14 properties.

Solar power also has blossomed on farms nationally over the last four years. Prior to 2000, only 18,881 solar panels were on farms and ranches. Between 2005 and 2009, more than 108,000 panels were installed.

"Farmers and ranchers are increasingly adopting renewable-energy practices on their operations, and reaping the important economic and environmental benefits," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Farmers in nearly every state reported savings on their energy bill. The survey also noted that subsidies and other sources helped finance some of the installation cost. In California, about 41% of the average $79,000 cost of installing solar came from outside sources.

All this makes me wonder what the future holds. Technological advances, such as this small-scale biomass project with ultra-low emissions suitable for urban areas, are coming fast, and the price of solar continues to fall. Some people predict parity is just around the corner. Possibly in 2012.

And one has to wonder if increasing oil prices, and the increasing realization from military and Big Business that green is good, will spur more energy-saving and renewable efforts among California farmers and corporations.

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have adopted some cool renewable projects - such as this grape grower in Delano - and I'm betting more are on the horizon.

photo by

Mendota Could Get Another Solar Project

A new power purchase agreement between Pacific Gas & Electric and North Star Solar could lead to a second solar project in Mendota, a West Fresno County community struggling with high joblessness.

North Star says in this press release that the plant, which could be in operation by mid-2013, would generate 60 megawatts of power, enough to power 30,000 to 60,000 houses. The project, which is still subject to regulatory and financing approvals, would be the second solar project in the Mendota area behind a 5-megawatt, 50-acre plant run by Meridian Energy.

Mendota's unemployment rate is nearly 40%, and some experts think renewable energy, especially solar, could be a way to create jobs in the sun-drenched San Joaquin Valley. A professor at University of California, Merced, reported that renewable-energy and high-speed rail projects proposed for the Valley could produce 100,000 jobs if constructed.

The majority of those would be energy related. Dr. Shawn Cantor studied approved and proposed biomass, hydrogen, solar and wind projects, concluding that up to 79,512 construction jobs are possible over the next decade. That does not include payrolls created from smaller-scale projects on houses and buildings.

Photo of Meridian project in Mendota.