Friday 15 December 2017

PURSUIT OF FARMING CLEAN ENERGY IN THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY

A recent conference focused on the future of bringing new energy systems for our future was good for those who attended, listened carefully, shared enlightened self interests and at “breaks”, made self introductions with proffered hand shakes as cultural behavior dictates. The polite exchanging of business cards with mutual hopes of building further relationships followed almost as an accepted ritual.

The informational exchange involved the connections between long-term investments with new ways of generating energy. These interests involved biomass, biogas, biofuels, solar and wind generation. The program targeted farmers to partner with clean energy producers, utilities, policy makers and regulators, project developers/financiers and clean energy advocates.

What was learned from this informational exchange? My belief is that connections are and have made between people at this event will advance the continual creativity and entrepreneurship of American business. This energy was evident between attendees and it is with optimism and hope that project realities will be formed as a result of these interactions.

My focus was to mine the intelligence of the proceedings. Two revelations shall be remembered. The first was the same “old” passage of problems from project conception to effective completion. Surprisingly it was not the magnitude of the project costs but the human concerns involved with predevelopment costs. The triad of costs, regulations not anticipating the technologies due to lack of understanding the complexities presented, and the expertise required to educate the transformation of these energy business resources.

The second revelation was my grateful surprise that one farmer and scientist were tackling the worldwide problem of using “drainage water” with bad soils to create and recycle crops with specialized plants to produce energy. This reality experiment was all done with an inventive process to responsibly prove emission calculations, as well as, rebuilding soil quality with the return cycle of activity for future yields. Inventiveness, courage and risk were measures of persistence in their exploration. These two men are the true great agricultural leaders in our SJ Valley.

A reminder of my urban planning design came into play when another bio energy production venture was displayed. The process adopted for their project started from laboratory to pilot and thence to commercial production, followed by return to the laboratory for improvement. One wishes that this discipline would be thoroughly applied to city design. This approach to use 100% of the biological molecule alternatives required a continuous stream of feedstock. This long-term bio energy plant location had engaged an interdisciplinary intellectual effort that is commendable.

After experiencing three decades of responding to new city, new community edge community design, the singular lesson learned was that a mix of uses was integrated toward a settlement for people. A misunderstanding of interrelationships between distance, energy, space, environment and time has shortened our focus on the efficiency or the need for long term urban planning. What is observed is the desire of multiple industries to rather focus on their own self-interests. These new investors of energy alternative projects are approaching the great San Joaquin Valley with the same blinders as urban developers.

The volumes of bio feedstock equals the value based on a continuous supply for electricity production. Depending on the size of the technology plants the scaling of land area for operation and maintenance has opened a land rush with the assumption that all farmland becomes a willing partner. These industries are placing their facilities seeking to find the feedstock that varies from ten to twenty to forty mile radiuses dependent upon facility size. The resultant distribution of generated electrical power thus depends on existing agreements with PUC dispensed on utility lines or “blenders credit” on gas pipes to end-users — people.

How all these actions will relieve the demand by consumers for electricity in time and sequence of bio-plant competition, remains to be seen. What is most disturbing is the fact that each alternate bio energy plant is looking at the San Joaquin Valley as a playground for finding the best land at a reasonable price. In process offering the farming industry opportunities to serve to be more profitable, yet assuming location based on proximity to either utility corridors or main gas utility pipelines without overview of service area overlap or adjacency to existing or future urban settlements is questionable. Is this “highest best use” approach the way to service future urban habitats?

What excellent San Joaquin Valley soil and water served agricultural land reserves are we going to be conserved for corporate and family farming? How does one balance future bio energy land requirements with the populations need to supply food and fibre is going to have to be seriously considered.

Graham Kaye-Eddie
M.U.D. 11/8/08 770 words

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