Tiny Town Could Be Ground Zero For Clean Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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