A Fresno patent attorney wanted to know the most pressing legal needs of clean energy companies in the San Joaquin Valley.
Her emailed question made me think. The industry remains in its infancy but likely won’t dawdle in Huggies for long, especially if petroleum prices continue upward as analysts suggest. Oil-price.net still lists $99 barrel on its one-year forecast, and pump prices continue to climb.
In my response to this attorney, I included concerns of solar, energy efficiency and biomass industries.
“Land use is a big deal,” I wrote. “I have heard that because of increased difficulties getting federal land secured, solar companies are moving to get private land deals. So far those are with municipalities and small solar operations, teaming them with wastewater sites (big electrical users) in hinter-ish lands.”
I also mentioned potential interest by Westlands farmers looking for a new source of revenue for farmland due to restrictions on irrigation water. Hundreds of acres of parched and dead grape fields and orchards greet passers by in this incredibly fertile sun-drenched valley.
My co-worker Sandy Nax, who was also my compatriot on the now mothballed Fresno Bee business desk, says the Central Valley is a veritable Petri dish for clean energy with its abundant sun, wind in the Sierra foothills, methane rich dairy waste and bio-plant-rich farmland.
Should a series of studies prove correct — that clean energy will produce scads of jobs nationwide and in California — I believe a large role will be played by those bitten by the powerful American entrepreneurial spirit. I told the patent attorney to keep an eye on start-ups, especially those related to water and biomass.
For instance, the more than $800,000 fine levied on two biomass plants in Merced and Madera counties by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently will likely worry folks in that industry. The Fresno Bee’s Mark Grossi called it “one of the state’s largest air-pollution fines in recent history.”
Biomass defines the process of burning woody material and ag waste to generate electricity. Emissions are a part of that as they are for biogas from methane.
Another sector worth a look, perhaps from an attorney’s perspective, is construction. Net-zero homes, the passive house movement and others will likely become dominant features of the new home market. A part of that is retrofits, something we’re quite familiar with at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization.
The practice of auditing buildings and upgrading systems that show inefficiencies is gaining converts and consumer interest. Some big players are starting to do this elsewhere. For instance, the Empire State Building is now a model of efficiency after a massive overhaul.
I was talking about the status of the clean energy movement with Valley hydrogen power expert Gene Johnson, and he said the best bet for change is talking up the subject to our young people. “Education is the key to this whole thing,” he said.
I convinced him to be one of the potential speakers in a program we’re working on with Valley high schools and colleges to prepare students for clean energy and entrepreneurial opportunities. Gene is one of those amazing people who can inspire people after 5 minutes in his presence. For example, he decided he wanted a hydrogen powered car so converted a glossy yellow Chevy SSR to run on the clean burning fuel.
Gene’s pretty optimistic about the future of clean energy. “Once people see food and gas prices going up… they’ll realize self-sufficiency is the best way to deal with it,” he said. Gene’s definition of self-sufficiency is pretty global and refers to the United States being able to produce all its own energy, from multiple sources.
Sandy and I keep up with news, and on the subject of clean energy and energy efficiency it looks pretty good. Our hope is that this industry takes off in the next couple of years. That may be optimistic, but things are definitely happening.
The jolt of federal stimulus money didn’t hurt. But it’s limited. In fact, we’re working on a couple of stimulus grants that sunset in the next 12 months. So we are biased — a bit.
We were heartened by a post on grist.org by Bracken Hendricks and Jorge Madrid with the Center for American Progress in which they called “clean energy technology one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy and it is projected to grow to $2.3 trillion by 2020.”
They also said American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the official name of stimulus money) sustained the nation’s fledgling clean energy industry when it was struggling due to the economy and global competition.
Nice to hear. I put a comment on their post saying as much.