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Lawmakers hold hearing on clean energy economy

Two Assembly members from the East Bay co-chaired a hearing today on keeping California at the forefront of the world’s clean-energy sector.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, co-chair the Assembly Select Committee on California’s Clean Energy Economy, and convened the hearing this morning at the State Capitol.

“We have a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit in this state that is in sync with Californians’ desire to produce clean energy, create jobs and improve our environment,” Wieckowski said in a news release issued later today. “We have the venture capital, the innovation ecosystem and a sound clean energy policy framework. We need to do a better job at coordinating services and incentives, and make sure we continue with the policies that have helped spark the industry.”

Panelists included F. Noel Perry, founder of Next 10; Rana Mookherjee, senior director of project finance at Fremont-based Solaria Corp.; Alissa Peterson, director of product marketing and business development at Hayward-based Primus Power; Mickey Oros, senior vice president for business development at Folsom-based Altergy Systems; Nancy Pfund, managing partner of DBL Investors; and Henry Yin, founder and president of USA-China Link.

Panelists discussed the state’s access to venture capital, its research and development capabilities and its clean energy incentives as reasons why so many clean tech companies start here. But federal clean energy subsidies are inadequate and temporary, and with increasing competition from other states and nations, California’s future isn’t assured.

“We have some competitive advantages that other states do not, but what the private sector is telling us is we need to be smart about which incentives we use and how we package them so our companies will want to keep more manufacturing here in California,” Wieckowski said.

Posted on Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, economy, energy, Environment, Nancy Skinner | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers: Gov’t didn’t do enough for Solyndra

At least two local lawmakers say the layoff of 1,100 workers and bankruptcy of Fremont-based Solyndra – a solar cell manufacturing company held up as a paragon of California’s burgeoning green economy by politicians such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Boxer and Barack Obama – is because government hasn’t done enough.

Per our story, Solyndra had landed $535 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as $1.1 billion in private venture capital.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, said he’s saddened by Solyndra’s news and his thoughts are with the workers who’ll lose their jobs, but the company’s struggle “is one shared by other American manufacturers attempting to scale-up operations in a very competitive global economy.

“Although there has been criticism of the amount of public funding received by the company, we must recognize that our fiercest foreign competitors often receive substantially more assistance from their own governments,” he said. “If America is to compete globally and maintain a strong manufacturing base in our industries, we must provide the proper investments, research, and incentives to grow jobs here and assist our companies in scaling up operations. Our workers in the region are among the most innovative and productive in the world, and I remain confident that we can be competitive in the emerging clean energy field.”

State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, said it’s “devastating news,” and state lawmakers must “wake up to the fact we must act with urgency to protect jobs and help nurture California’s economy back to good health. When we don’t, our families and communities suffer. The instant loss of 1,100 jobs in my district is big blow that will have negative trickle-down effects throughout the Bay Area.”

“Unfortunately, it is too late to help Solyndra, but many other companies are struggling and could benefit from legislation I have authored that would give California-based solar companies a bid preference on state contracts,” Corbett said. “If California is going to place solar panels on state property, shouldn’t we try to use panels made in California? Isn’t it common sense to use taxpayer dollars to support California jobs? This is a simple measure that can help protect California jobs.”

Corbett’s SB 175 would’ve provided a 5-percent bid preference to companies that certify they’re using California-assembled or manufactured solar panels; the state Senate passed the bill June 1 on a 27-11 vote, but the Assembly Business and Professions Committee nixed it last month. Corbett recently revived the measure by gutting-and-amending the language into SB 134; time is growing short in this legislative session, but Corbett spokesman Andrew LaMar said today that Speaker John Perez’ office has committed to scheduling a hearing on it.

Posted on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, California State Senate, economy, Ellen Corbett, energy | 36 Comments »

Biden: DOE money seeded Bay Area investments

Five institutions that got Energy Department seed money in 2009-2010 – including two in the Bay Area – since have attracted more than $100 million in outside private capital investment, Vice President Joe Biden said today.

The money came from the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

“America is at its best when we innovate – and ARPA-E supports the very best of American innovation,” said Biden, who spoke today at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 in Las Vegas.

“These five companies are swinging for the fences, pioneering new technologies that could help answer the energy challenge and create jobs,” he said. “They illustrate how a small but strategic investment by the federal government can pay big dividends down the road and bring into the market groundbreaking new technologies.”

Primus Power of Hayward received $2 million in ARPA-E seed funding in July 2010, and in May 2011 raised $11M in a round of financing. DBL Investors and I2BF Global Ventures joined existing investors Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. It’s developing a “flow battery” using high energy fluids pumped throughout the unit, capable of storing renewable energy such as wind and solar power and then releasing that energy into the grid during peak load times.

Stanford University received $1.5 million in ARPA-E seed funding million and since has secured $25 million in private investments to support Professor Fritz Prinz’s work on commercializing a new type of energy storage device that will perform many of the same jobs as a normal battery, but deliver greater energy and power and withstand thousands of charges without showing a significant drop in performance.

ARPA-E will be making its next round of awards in September, including some to projects to keep America’s manufacturers competitive by reducing the need for expensive “rare earth” materials from China. Rare earths are naturally-occurring minerals with unique magnetic properties, used for modern necessities such as laptops and lasers as well as in clean-energy technologies such as electric vehicles and wind turbines. Up to $30 million will be made available for this area, in addition to funding for projects in advanced biofuels, thermal storage, grid control technologies and solar power.

Posted on Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
Under: energy | 1 Comment »

Lawmaker touts ‘fracking’ disclosure bill

Oil and gas producers engaged in hydraulic fracturing must be required to disclose the chemicals they’re pumping into the ground, an East Bay lawmaker said today.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, held a news conference at the State Capitol just before his AB 591 was taken up by the state Senate Appropriations Committee, which will decide next week whether to let the bill advance.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” (not to be confused with “frakking”), is a process in which a highly-pressurized mix of water, sand and toxic chemicals is injected underground to crack rock formations and tap into petroleum deposits. Some fear this can contaminate water supplies. Wieckowski’s bill would ensure that the state Conservation Department’s Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources gathers information on the chemicals used, and on the volume and source of water used in this process.

“Roughly 50,000 Californians have signed on-line petitions expressing their support for passing AB 591 and protecting our state’s environment,” hei said today. “They all agree with us that it is time to pull back the curtain and shed more light on fracking.”

With Wieckowski at today’s news conference were Assembly Assistant Majority Leader Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa; Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento; and representatives from the Environmental Working Group, California League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.

Posted on Monday, August 15th, 2011
Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, energy, Environment | 14 Comments »

Bay Area firms get $19.6 mil for battery research

Four Bay Area companies will receive more than $19.6 million in U.S. Energy Department grants over the next few years for research into new batteries to power electric vehicles.

The money is part of $175 million that Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced yesterday will be paid out over the next three to five years to 40 projects in 15 states aimed at accelerating development and deployment of advanced vehicles.

The grants were broken out into eight subject areas, including areas such as lightweight materials, thermoelectric technology, fleet efficiency and so on. However, all four of the Bay Area grants are in the filed of advanced cells and design technology for electric drive batteries:

  • $4,998,336 to Ampirus Inc. of Menlo Park, to “develop next generation, high-energy lithium ion cells leveraging silicon anodes, doubling the capacity of state of the art vehicle batteries.”
  • $4,902,862 to Applied Materials Inc. of Santa Clara, to “design and assemble a low cost, high volume manufacturing module for fabricating high capacity metal alloy anodes in a continuous roll-to-roll configuration.”
  • $4,874,391 to Seeo Inc. of Berkeley, to “develop high-energy cells using a lithium metal anode and a proprietary solid polymer electrolyte that significantly reduces battery cost and size, and improves life and safety.”
  • $4,840,781 to Nanosys Inc. of Palo Alto, to “develop next generation, high-energy lithium ion cells leveraging high voltage composite cathode materials and silicon based anodes doubling the capacity of state of the art vehicle batteries.”
  • Posted on Thursday, August 11th, 2011
    Under: economy, energy, Environment | 1 Comment »

    Jerry Brown, Harry Reid tout energy summit

    A conference at the end of this month in Las Vegas will be a crucial opportunity for the nation to kick-start its clean-energy revolution, Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on a conference call this morning.

    Brown and Reid, D-Nev., as well as U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta, were touting the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0, to be held Aug. 30 at the Aria Resort and Casino.

    Business executives, energy policy innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and senior public officials from both parties, along with citizens and students, will discuss the nation’s energy future. Besides Brown and Mabus, speakers will include Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.

    “California has in many ways led in many fields, and with respect to renewable energy, we are very much out in the forefront,” Brown said, a policy path that has been “building up over many decades” back to his first tenure as governor. He gave former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger props for having championed renewable energy standards, and said he’s advanced that goal by signing legislation with more teeth.

    The state now has a goal of generating 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020 – 12,000 megawatts in distributed generation, meaning individual rooftop-style sites, and 8,000 in centrally-based power generation like the 1,000-megawatt Blythe project for which ground was recently broken.

    “We’re really committed here,” Brown said. “All signals are go and even though we’ve got some economic headwinds, this part of the economy is expanding.”

    “You’ve put your money where your mouth is … and you’re a role model for every governor,” Reid told Brown.

    “Almost three million are employed as we speak in the clean technology sector across the country,” Reid said, but although this sector has grown at twice the rate of the overall economy since 2003, “I’m disappointed we haven’t done better.”

    Reid blasted House Republicans for trying to roll back some of the clean-energy progress made in recent years, citing as an example their unsuccessful effort last month to repeal recent light-bulb energy efficiency standards.

    The torpid economy is making investors reluctant to keep supporting the clean-energy sector and Washington must do more to make it inviting, but “it’s very difficult with the backward-leaning Republican House of Representatives we have,” he said.

    Mabus called it “a matter of national security.”

    “We simply use too much oil and gas. As you look at a military and you look at potential adversaries, you look at their vulnerabilities but you also look at your own vulnerabilities,” he said, and ours is reliance on importing fossil fuels from volatile nations, and the supply and price shocks that entails.

    The Navy has committed to deriving at least half of all its energy ashore and afloat from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2020, Mabus said, and at President Obama’s direction is working with the Agriculture and Energy departments on a sustainable biofuels program for the nation’s military and commercial aircraft.

    “I think that relatively soon we should have some very concrete things to push forward on that,” he said. “We can lead the country into a different economy and into a different way of using and producing energy.”

    The summit is being sponsored by Reid and Podesta’s CAP, as well as by the Clean Energy Project, MGM Resorts International and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
    Under: economy, energy, Environment, Harry Reid, Jerry Brown, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

    Skinner, Wieckowski to hold green jobs hearing

    Two East Bay lawmakers will co-chair a hearing tomorrow in Sacramento on how California’s energy efficiency policies can create jobs.

    Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, co-chair the Assembly Select Committee on California’s Clean Energy Economy.

    “California’s growing clean energy industry has tremendous potential to reduce our energy costs, decrease our dependence on foreign oil and create job opportunities for Californians,” Wieckowski said in their news release, noting he recently held a “Made in California Jobs Summit” in his district.

    Skinner said energy efficiency retrofits “are an opportunity to grow green jobs and protect all of us against rising energy prices; as an employment strategy, energy efficiency wins hands down.

    The committee – convening at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in room 127 of the State Capitol – will examine what role energy efficiency policies have played in the state’s emerging green economy and the influence of regulations and funding sources in that sector, with testimony from the private sector, academia and government.

    Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday signed into law Skinner’s AB X1 14, which expands the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority‘s Property Assessed Clean Energy program so the authority (which is within the state Treasurer’s office) can offer financial aid to banks for privately-issued loans for certain energy efficiency, water efficiency and renewable distributed power generation retrofit projects. In short, it aims to increase demand for such projects by making their financing more affordable, in turn putting contractors to work while reducing consumer energy bills.

    The committee almost certainly will have to discuss the State Auditor’s recent finding that the California Energy Commission is still sitting on a pot of $183 million in Recovery Act funding earmarked for energy efficiency, energy conservation, renewable energy, and other energy related projects and activities – a lot of supposedly job-creating funds that are just sitting there. The commission must spend the money by the end of next April, or else the federal government takes it back.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
    Under: Assembly, Bob Wieckowski, economy, energy, Environment, Nancy Skinner | 1 Comment »

    Arnold touts California at Vienna Energy Forum

    Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger touted California’s energy and environmental accomplishments – from solar roofs to tailpipe emission standards – in a speech today at the the United Nations Industrial Development Organization’s Vienna Energy Forum.

    “I love that my homeland of Austria and adopted home of California are global action heroes both proving you can protect the environment and improve the economy at the same time,” he said. “Universal energy access isn’t about just lighting a dark room or cookingon a better stove, it is about the freedom that energy and especially renewable energy gives us.”

    Posted on Tuesday, June 21st, 2011
    Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, energy, Environment | No Comments »

    Anti-nuclear ballot measure starts circulating

    California’s nuclear power plants would be shut down under a proposed ballot measure that Secretary of State Debra Bowen cleared today for collection of petition signatures.

    Here’s the Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure:

    NUCLEAR POWER. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Extends statutory preconditions, currently applicable to new operation of any nuclear power plant, to existing Diablo Canyon and San Onofre operations. Before further electricity production at these plants, requires California Energy Commission to find federal government has approved technology for permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste. For nuclear power plants requiring reprocessing of fuel rods, requires Commission to find federal government has approved technology for nuclear fuel rod reprocessing plants. Both findings are subject to Legislature’s rejection. Further requires Commission to find on case-by-case basis facilities will be available with adequate capacity to reprocess or store power plant’s fuel rods. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Likely major impacts on state and local finances in the form of decreased revenues and increased costs, at least in the billions of dollars annually, due to disruptions in the state’s electricity system and electricity price increases. Potential major state costs to compensate utilities for investment losses resulting from the mandated shutdown of their nuclear power plants. Potential avoidance of future state and local government costs and lost revenues resulting from the unlikely event of a major nuclear plant incident. (11-0008.)

    Proponent Ben Davis Jr. of Santa Cruz County has until Oct. 20 to collect valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to qualify the measure for the ballot.

    Davis has taken on this industry before: He apparently drafted what became a successful 1989 ballot referendum that shut down the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station near Sacramento.

    Davis’ request for a title and summary for his “Nuclear Waste Act of 2011” was filed March 30, a few weeks after the 9.0 earthquake and resultant tsunami that devastated Japan and triggered a crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

    Posted on Monday, May 23rd, 2011
    Under: ballot measures, energy | 9 Comments »

    House OKs bill allowing drilling off California coast

    As I’d previewed Tuesday, the House voted 243-179 today to pass HR 1231, the “Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act,” which would re-open oil drilling off California’s coast and anywhere else significant deposits are found three miles offshore. As expected, no Bay Area members supported it.

    House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a Capitol Hill briefing that “the American people are demanding that Congress take concrete steps to increase the supply of American energy to lower costs, to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and to create jobs. Republicans are listening, and taking action to provide much-needed relief to families and small businesses who are struggling with high prices at the pump.”

    It stands little chance in the Senate, where the dominant Democrats are moving to end tax subsidies for oil companies. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., quickly condemned the House’s vote.

    “This Republican bill is a direct assault on California’s $23 billion coastal economy and nearly 390,000 jobs in tourism, fishing and recreation that would do nothing to lower gas prices for consumers,” she said. “A year after the devastating BP oil spill sparked an economic and environmental disaster on the Gulf Coast, big oil companies and their allies are now seeking to put our coast at risk – even though they already have 50 million acres of oil and gas leases that they have yet to drill and even though this is not the way to lower gas prices.”

    She said the right steps to address high gas prices include releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; cracking down on fraud and speculation; forcing oil companies to either use active leases they already have or put them back on the market; ending oil’s tax subsidies and reinvesting that money in clean energy; continuing to raise fuel economy standards; and pursuing policies to limit exports of U.S. oil.

    HR 1231 is part of a three-bill package authored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., aimed at ending the Obama Administration’s moratorium on new leases for domestic offshore oil and gas drilling.

    MAPLight.org, the Berkeley-based nonprofit that studies the influence of money in politics, took a close look at Wednesday’s 263-163 vote to pass Hastings’s HR 1229, the Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act, which would give the Interior Department a 30-day window in which to decide on Gulf of Mexico drilling applications. More than two dozen Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the bill, while no Republicans opposed it.

    MapLight.org found that interest groups supporting HR 1229 – including Republican/conservative groups, major oil and gas producers, agricultural chemical firms and pro-business associations – had given almost five times more on average to House Democrats who voted for on this bill than to Democrats who voted against it. Among all House members, interest groups supporting HR 1229 had given 6.5 times more on average to those voting for than to those voting against.

    Posted on Thursday, May 12th, 2011
    Under: Barbara Boxer, energy, Environment, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »