Featured photo from our gallery:
April 6th, 2012 Archives
Solar-energy outfit AEE Solar thrives, expands in Sacramento
By James Raia
Local outfit AEE Solar recently opened a new 63,000-square-foot facility in Natomas, which will bring dozens of green-energy jobs to Sacramento, and process more than 50,000 outbound shipments annually.
Last year, The Solar Foundation, a more than three-decade-old nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., released its second-annual job report on the solar industry. For the first time, more than 100,000 people in the country had jobs in the solar field. More than one-quarter of the jobs, or 25,575, were in California.
And, because it’s an affordable place to do business, Sacramento, according to local energy outfit AEE Solar, is an attractive destination within the state.
“I can’t speak for other companies, but Sacramento … [is] an epicenter for the green-business environment, and it’s a vibrant business community, overall,” said Ben Higgins, who directs government affairs for AEE and two sister companies. “It’s an efficient and affordable place to own a business.”
One of the nation’s top distributors of solar-energy systems and equipment, AEE Solar takes pride in being efficient. Although headquartered in San Luis Obispo, several of the company’s Northern California operation and distribution spots were recently consolidated into one facility in Natomas. This includes a new 63,000-square-foot location at 1227 Striker Avenue (near the intersection of Interstate 80 and Truxel Road), which will process more than 30,000 outbound shipments a year.
The shipments will serve AEE Solar’s distribution partners in all 50 states and provide solar panels, racking, and equipment for sister company REC Solar’s regional installation branches in California, Hawaii, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado and New Jersey.
Needless to say, the new AEE Solar location meant and will continue to mean good things for the local job market.Share This Post
April 06, 2012 By Jon Welner
--Jon Welner is a practitioner in environmental and natural resource law.
Original source: http://www.cacurrent.com/storyDisplay.php?sid=6027
California’s rural landscapes are some of the most productive farmlands in the world. However, some of the qualities that make these lands suitable for farming--sunshine and wide open spaces--also make them attractive for another kind of “farming”: solar and wind farms. In recent years, the conflict between farming and renewable energy production has grown more pronounced in the state.
Central to this conflict is the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, generally known as the Williamson Act (Gov’t Code §§ 51200-51297.4).
The purpose of the Williamson Act is “the discouragement of premature and unnecessary conversion of agricultural land to urban uses.” It achieves this goal by allowing cities and counties to establish agricultural preserves. Within these preserves, landowners can voluntarily enter into contracts with the city or county restricting their land to agricultural use. The contracts generally have an initial term of ten years, and are automatically “renewed” each year for a new ten-year term.
In exchange for signing these contracts, landowners receive significantly reduced property valuations for property tax. Instead of being assessed at full value, the land is assessed based on its restricted use. Landowners who want their valuations further reduced can sign up for Farmland Security Zone contracts, which generally have a term of 20 years and impose greater restrictions in exchange for an additional 35 percent reduction in valuation.
In the last year, the tension between renewable power developers and Williamson Act advocates has been intensifying. Driven by recent legislation requiring California utilities to achieve 33 percent renewable power by 2020, solar and wind companies are aggressively looking for sites where they can build utility-scale power generation facilities, and have increasingly turned their sights onto agricultural lands, including those covered by Williamson Act contracts.Share This Post
April 06, 2012 By John Gamper
--John Gamper is California Farm Bureau director of taxation and land use.
Original source: http://www.cacurrent.com/storyDisplay.php?sid=6029
The California Land Conservation Act--known as the Williamson Act--continues to protect against the premature and unnecessary conversion of agricultural land to commercial, industrial and residential uses.
The Williamson Act currently protects 16.5 million acres, which is more than half of all California agricultural land, including 69 percent of all prime farmland. This is no small accomplishment considering the urban and suburban expansion needed to accommodate our state’s population growth from 16 million to 37 million people since the law’s adoption in 1965. California, our nation, and world are better places because of the food security that the Williamson Act provides.
As a legislative representative for the California Farm Bureau Federation for the last 32 years, whose primary responsibility is the protection of the Williamson Act, I wanted to commend Jon Welner for his synopsis of this body of law. While I may not agree with all of Welner’s recommended steps to ease the development of utility-scale solar power plants on Williamson Act land, we do agree the program is vital to protect farmland from facilities, including renewable energy facilities that significantly compromise, displace or impair agricultural production on the restricted parcel.
The Farm Bureau has watched with dismay as a growing number of utility-scale solar power projects continue to be proposed on prime farmland in exclusive agricultural zones, including agricultural preserves, and on land restricted by Williamson Act contracts.Share This Post
April 06, 2012
Original source: http://www.cacurrent.com/storyDisplay.php?sid=6028
Williamson Act compliance or “compatibility” includes the following minimum requirements:
A compatible use: (1) must “not significantly compromise the long-term productive agricultural capability” of any land under contract; (2) must “not significantly displace or impair current or reasonably foreseeable agricultural operations” on any land under contract, unless it is for a related activity, such as processing or shipping; and (3) must “not result in the significant removal of adjacent contracted land.”
For nonprime farmland, a city or county may allow uses that do not satisfy the first two criteria, so long as: (1) there are conditions that “make the use consistent” with the first two criteria “to the greatest extent possible”; (2) the city or county has considered both “the productive capability” of the land and “the extent to which the use may displace or impair agricultural operations”; (3) the use is consistent with the purposes of the chapter; and (4) the use does not include a residential subdivision.
Material breach of a contract can result in: (1) an order to eliminate the condition causing the material breach; or (2) termination of the contract and a penalty of 25 percent of the fair market value of the portion of the property affected by the breach, plus 25 percent of the value of any improvements causing the breach.
Williamson Act contracts generally have a minimum initial term of ten years. (Farmland Security Zone contracts generally have a minimum initial term of 20 years.) Each year the term is automatically extended by another year, unless the landowner or the city or county submits a notice of nonrenewal. Landowners who decide not to renew their contracts must wait until the contract expires--i.e., nine years or more--before the land is released.
Landowners can also petition the city or county to “cancel” the contracts without waiting for them to expire. However, cancellation can only be approved if the city or county makes one of the following findings:Share This Post
This article was published on 04.05.12.
Going “green” helps company stock. According to a joint UC Davis and UC Berkeley study released on January 29, companies that disclose “green” efforts see a spike in stock prices. The report, written by Paul Griffin of UCD and Yuan Sun of UCB, studied 172 companies that made voluntary disclosures of carbon-emission information between 2000 and 2010. In the five days surrounding these announcements, companies saw an average of nearly half a percent increase in stock prices. For small companies, “green” announcements had an even greater positive effect on stock prices. To read the full report, visit http://ssrn.com/abstract=1995132.Share This Post
email@example.com (Carolyn Lochhead)
Posted: 04/05/2012 11:22 PM
Washington -- President Obama on Thursday signed a Republican-crafted bill to loosen securities regulations, including several that were established after the dot-com crash of 2000 and the Enron scandal of 2001, and make it easier for companies to raise cash from the public.
Too easy, warned the president's chief of securities law enforcement, several leading academics, the chief investment officer of the giant California Public Employees' Retirement System, and others who said that the legislation will expose investors to infomercial and Internet swindlers.
Critics said the new law, dubbed the "Jump-start Our Business Startups" or JOBS Act, could reduce financial transparency and applies so broadly that billion-dollar companies, and potentially much larger corporations, could face less-restrictive disclosure and auditing rules.
But the law is a big hit in Silicon Valley, where initial public offerings and venture capital have grown scarce during the recession. Many companies believe the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley securities law overhaul, passed in the aftermath of accounting scandals at bankrupt Enron and WorldCom, have made going public too costly for any but the largest companies.
To read the entire article go to: http://m.sfgate.com/sfchron/db_106675/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=oPpa0YXTShare This Post
Posted: 04/ 5/2012 10:16 am
And Why Taxpayers Shouldn’t Stand for It Any More
Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
Along with “fivedollaragallongas,” the energy watchword for the next few months is: “subsidies.” Last week, for instance, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez proposed ending some of the billions of dollars in handouts enjoyed by the fossil-fuel industry with a “Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act.” It was, in truth, nothing to write home about -- a curiously skimpy bill that only targeted oil companies, and just the five richest of them at that. Left out were coal and natural gas, and you won’t be surprised to learn that even then it didn’t pass.
Still, President Obama is now calling for an end to oil subsidies at every stop on his early presidential-campaign-plus-fundraising blitz -- even at those stops where he’s also promising to “drill everywhere.” And later this month Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will introduce a much more comprehensive bill that tackles all fossil fuels and their purveyors (and has no chance whatsoever of passing this Congress).
Whether or not the bill passes, those subsidies are worth focusing on. After all, we’re talking at least $10 billion in freebies and, depending on what you count, possibly as much as $40 billion annually in freebie cash for an energy industry already making historic profits. If attacking them is a convenient way for the White House to deflect public anger over rising gas prices, it is also a perfect fit for the new worldview the Occupy movement has been teaching Americans. (Not to mention, if you think about it, the Tea Party focus on deficits.) So count on one thing: we’ll be hearing a lot more about them this year.Share This Post
Tim Johnson | McClatchy Newspapers
last updated: April 03, 2012 02:45:20 PM
MEXICO CITY — Two years after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, Mexico's state oil company is about to test its hand at drilling at extraordinary depths in the Gulf of Mexico.
If all goes as planned, Petroleos de Mexico, known as Pemex, will deploy two state-of-the-art drilling platforms in May to an area just south of the maritime boundary with the United States. One rig will sink a well in 9,514 feet of water, while another will drill in 8,316 feet of water, then deeper into the substrata.
Pemex has no experience drilling at such depths. Mexico's oil regulator is sounding alarm bells, saying the huge state oil concern is unprepared for a serious deepwater accident or spill. Critics say the company has sharply cut corners on insurance, remiss over potential sky-high liability.
Mexico's plans come two years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. On April 20, 2010, a semi-submersible rig that the British oil firm BP had contracted to drill a well known as Macondo exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and spewing 4.9 million barrels of oil in the nearly three months it took engineers to stop the spill.
BP has said the tab for the spill — including government fines, cleanup costs and compensation — could climb to $42 billion for the company and its contractors.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/04/03/144004/mexican-plan-for-gulf-deepwater.htmlShare This Post
By Morgan Lee Thursday, April 5, 2012
State utility regulators have announced the appointment of a retired Marine to oversee safety and consumer protection efforts.
The California Public Utilities Commission has stepped up its oversight of gas-pipeline safety in response to the deadly 2010 pipeline explosion at San Bruno. Brig. Gen. Jack Hagan will direct the Consumer Protection and Safety Division starting April 23, the commission announced late Wednesday.
Hagan leaves his current job as a special agent at the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1999 after 28 years as an active-duty infantry officer.
Recalled to active duty in 2003, Hagan worked at the governor's Office of Homeland Security and later was promoted to brigadier general as commanding general of the California State Military Reserve.
In the wake of the San Bruno explosion, state utility officials have hired more gas inspectors and created a Risk Assessment Unit.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/05/utility-regulators-turn-marine-safety/Share This Post
March 30, 2012 By Joe Como
--Joe Como, Division of Ratepayer Advocates Acting Director
Edited By: California Current Staff
Original source: http://www.cacurrent.com/storyDisplay.php?sid=6011
Following the San Bruno pipeline explosion of Line 132, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the probable cause of the accident was Pacific Gas & Electric’s inadequate quality assurance and quality control in 1956 that allowed a defective pipe weld to go unnoticed even though it would have been visible to the naked eye if PG&E inspectors had simply bothered to look.
Maybe they did, but we will never know.
The pipe that exploded, killing eight and destroying 38 homes, did not meet generally accepted industry quality control and welding standards at the time, indicating those standards were overlooked or ignored, according to the NTSB.
Shameful revelations followed the accident.Share This Post
Submitted by Lisa Lien-Mager on Wed, 04/04/2012 - 5:10pm
State officials are asking energy companies to voluntarily disclose where they are currently conducting “fracking” operations in California and what chemicals are being injected as part of the process.
In a notice to oil and gas companies last week, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources encouraged all operators to report their fracking operations on a national disclosure registry called Frac Focus. The registry is managed by the Interstate Oil and Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that involves injecting chemical-laced water and sand at high pressure into shale formations to release previously inaccessible stores of natural gas. The water-intensive and controversial process has expanded in many areas of the country, raising concerns about impacts on drinking water supplies.
In the notice to operators, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources said it is gathering information to better understand current fracking practices and to facilitate informed policy decisions.
“As the Division continues to engage with interested parties on fracking, and as public policy evolves, our need to have basic information on the in-state practices is clear,” the notice said.Share This Post
Wayne Barber | Apr 05, 2012
No matter what the power industry headline these days, it seems the story behind the story is natural gas.Share This Post
March 23, 2012 J.A. Savage
Original source: http://www.cacurrent.com/storyDisplay.php?sid=5994
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is suffering a plague of locusts.
The shiny new $670 million in steam tube generators are like a rusty lemon on the inside.
The state is investigating the steam tube degradation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission--an agency that takes a lot to get it moving--suddenly is assembling its own SWAT team to descend on the facility due to unprecedented levels of wear.
Pressure testing on a tiny fraction (0.15 percent) of Unit 3’s steam tubes already shows remarkable degradation in seven of the tubes--and the testing isn’t complete. At press time, eight of 129 selected tubes have failed, which could have led to radioactive leaks if not detected. Both units at San Onofre remain shut, The grid operator is discussing what to do this summer to prevent blackouts if San Onofre stays shut (see story page 4).Share This Post
By RYAN TRACY Updated March 30, 2012, 5:54 p.m. ET
Federal regulators approved power company Scana Corp.'s proposal to build two nuclear reactors with a partner in South Carolina at a cost of some $11 billion, the second such approval in two months after a drought that lasted more than 30 years.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 Friday to green-light construction over a dissent from Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who said the commission should have required compliance with any changes the agency adopts in light of Japan's 2011 nuclear accident.
The two reactors are to be built by Scana unit South Carolina Electric & Gas and state-owned utility Santee Cooper. The reactors will serve customers of both utilities. Two Southern Co. reactors in Georgia also received the NRC's blessing last month.
Scana on Thursday said it would complete one 1,117-megawatt unit in 2017 and another of the same size the following year. The reactors are designed by Toshiba Corp. unit Westinghouse Electric Co.
Both the Scana and Southern power plants will operate in regulated markets, where state boards that support the nuclear expansion will allow the companies to recover their costs on customers' electricity bills.
To read the entire article go to: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303816504577313873449843052.html?KEYWORDS=rebecca+smithShare This Post
04/04/2012 By Barry Cassell
An analysis run in 2011 shows it is better to keep Crist Unit 6 in operation, instead of retiring it in December 2014 and replacing it with new gas-fired combined cycle capacity, said Gulf Power in an updated clean-air plan.
To read the entire article go to: http://generationhub.com/2012/04/04/gulf-power-retrofits-crist-unit-6-instead-of-retirShare This Post