Idle biomass plant near Delano would reopen under carbon burial proposal

Kern’s ambitious list of carbon burial proposals has lengthened with the addition of an early-stage, relatively inexpensive plan for reusing an idle biomass plant near Delano to combust local ag waste then burying the byproduct gas while generating small amounts of electricity or hydrogen. A company based in Rancho Cordova that uses rocket technology to increase burn efficiency has initiated preliminary talks with Kern County government as it pursues a similar biomass plant-reuse project in Mendota under a new partnership with Microsoft and oil industry giants Chevron and Schlumberger.

The projects are not without skeptics who question claims the process is carbon negative and doubt the technology itself. Environmental groups have been critical of carbon capture and sequestration generally; they’re no more receptive to burning biomass and burying its byproduct carbon dioxide. If Clean Energy Systems’ project in Mendota lives up to its billing as a safe, financially viable, zero-emission solution for handling the Central Valley’s massive production of ag waste, the company’s proposal in northern Kern could join at least three other projects in the county that, though unrelated to biomass, all aim to address climate change by injecting CO2 deep underground.

CES has purchased the former 50-megawatt, 1,200-ton-per-day Covanta Delano LLP biomass plant that was shut down in 2015. That was after a large share of the state’s biomass power plants shut down several years ago in the face of competition from against other renewable energy producers. The loss of facilities that had taken in ag waste resulted in a glut of feedstock, leading many farmers to burn their woody waste openly. Regulations on such pollution have since tightened while mulching of shredded orchards and vineyards has become more common. Even so, some growers are finding customers for their biomass.

After CES initiated a conversation with officials in Kern, the county did a preliminary assessment that led it to inform the company in early 2020 it would have to perform a full environmental review and pay certain fees. Things have stopped there. “We are not actively processing any permit for any Clean Energy Systems project anywhere in unincorporated Kern County,” the county’s top energy-permitting official, Lorelei Oviatt, said by email. Environmental advocates who would prefer the project remain on hold have raised a number of concerns not unique to the CES proposal near Delano.


For Kings County, 2021 brought a significant economic rebound from the tumultuous 2020. According to Kings County Economic Overview report for 2021 produced by JobsEQ, over the year ending in the second quarter, employment increased 6.4% in the region. Average annual wages per worker in the county was $52,775 as of Q2, a 9.3% increase in the region over the preceding four quarters. Over the year, employment in Kings County expanded by 419 jobs. Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction is projected to be the fastest growing sector in the region with a 2.7% year-over-year rate of growth. With the shock brought to the medical industry in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, it is no surprise that sector is expected to see the most growth in terms of sole job numbers.

It is forecast that over the next year, the number of jobs for health care and social assistance will grow by more than 209; more than 50 jobs for agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; and more than 37 jobs for accommodation and food services. Lance Lippincott, director of economic and workforce development for the Kings County Economic Development Corporation, said that commercial retail took the biggest hit from the pandemic, but that that larger industries such as ag are expected to continue with strong performance. Central Valley Meat Co. will expand its processing plant in Hanford by nearly 130 acres next year, expanding is processing capability from abut 1,500 cattle a day to about 4,500 a day. In phase 2 of the expansion, a new 103,000 square-foot processing facility will be added along with a 187,000 square-foot freezer. Lippincott said that one of the biggest economic boosts for the region in 2021 was new cannabis businesses, including the Deli by Caliva Dispensary in Hanford.

The industry is expected to keep growing with more dispensaries coming online in 2022. Though its had a long local history of “will they or wont they?,” smart car manufacture Faraday Future held a job fair early in November to gear up for production at its Hanford facility in 2022. The electric vehicle startup tech company is expected to bring more than 1,300 jobs to the city. On the manufacturing side, agricultural and specialty formulator and distributor Helena Agri-Enterprises will be building a facility in Lemoore’s industrial park. The state-of-the-art facility will cover over 130,000 square feet and have some retail space at the front. In the real estate neighborhood, Lippincott said the EDC is seeing larger projects requesting site selections that cover nearly 400 to 500 acres. “We are starting to see that movement up from Los Angeles and from the Bay Area to more inexpensive land in the Central Valley,” Lippincott said. Lippincott said that several residential housing projects have been approved in the county for up to 1,000 homes.

A shrinking inventory of available spaces for both commercial and industrial sectors is a positive sign for business, Lippincott said. Though Kings County does have a cost of living that is almost 7% higher than the nation’s average, it is still cheaper than many other regions in California. “This area is incredibly affordable on the U.S. average, and in the upcoming year, that’s going to channel a lot of growth to us and the Central Valley as a whole,” Lippincott said.

At the Kings County Chamber of Commerce, President and CEO Benjamin Kahikina said some of the biggest projects for 2022 are in development and housing growth, especially in regard to affordable housing sustainability. With the residential growth projected for the upcoming year, Kahikina said he expects new businesses to follow. Kings County is trying to annex land for a project that would extend the boundaries of Kettleman City.

Kahikina said that the chamber is in contact with people who are interested in developing businesses, but aren’t familiar with the process. Chamber officials are trying to convince more businesses to open up a brick-and-mortar store to revitalize downtowns such as Lemoore’s. There will be an effort to connect with newer and younger entrepreneurs that may be operating out of their home. “We are excited to bring everything we have learned from the pandemic in 2020, and going into 2021, and to bring that in to 2022 and offer new resources and start connecting with younger audiences as well.”

New Patterson sustainable high-tech building company begins hiring; 250 jobs coming

A sustainable building company finishing its “MegaFactory” in Patterson has started hiring. Palo Alto-based S²A Modular announced plans for its new manufacturing plant in Patterson earlier this year. Construction got started over the summer and now the company has begun its initial hiring phase, which consists of about 40…

Compressed-air energy proposal in east Kern comes up for state review

State review is officially underway on a major energy-storage project near Rosamond that would use compressed air, thermal engineering and hydrostatic force to even out delivery of renewable power and make the state’s electrical grid more resilient. At a cost estimated at $975 million, the 500-megawatt, 4,000-megawatt-hour proposal would take electrons from renewable energy sources nearby to power air compression and underwater injection. When energy is needed later, air would be released upward to run a turbine generator. Heat would be removed early then returned later in the process.

Named the Gem Energy Storage Center, the Canadian-led project would be one of the largest of its kind on the planet, a new-generation infrastructure investment to help meet California’s huge need for large-scale energy storage. “Gem’s quick-starting, flexible and dispatchable long-duration energy supply will have the ability to ramp-up and down through a wide range of electrical output,” Toronto-based Hydrostor said in a Dec. 1 news release announcing its local subsidiary had filed an application for certification from the California Energy Commission. Added CEO Curtis VanWalleghem: “We look forward to working closely with the citizens of Kern County to earn their trust and support on our way to becoming a valued member of the community.” Besides widening Kern’s already diverse energy portfolio, Hydrostor said, the project would create 30 to 40 good-paying, full-time jobs, plus 700 construction jobs, all without emissions.

Gem is slated to open in early 2026 after a four-year construction period, and thereafter generate property tax revenues and $500 million in regional economic benefits over its 50-year lifespan. The project has a little longer discharge capacity than a similar energy-storage proposal in San Luis Obispo that Hydrostor recently brought before the energy commission.


Experts largely see Fresno County reaping the benefits of what the deadly virus changed culturally. Remote work, a dire need for housing and the demand for warehouse space have sent millions of dollars to area. But rising entitlement costs and dwindling development space have tempered the potential for growth. Industrial real estate has been the largest benefactor of stay-at-home orders with warehouses hiring thousands of people in Fresno and Visalia. But in both cities, available shovel-ready land has largely been exhausted. “Fresno County has been the center for people from all over the state and all over the country looking at expanding or for a new place to move,” said Lee Ann Eager, CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation.

Industrial brokers often tell Eager Fresno has become a hot market. But with vacancy rates at .02%, there isn’t much available. New construction sites have nearly been exhausted. Earlier this year the EDC spoke with a company that wanted to bring a 1 million square-foot warehouse to the area and 2,500 jobs. Eager had to say no because she estimated the process would take three years whereas they wanted to be up and running in 18 months.

A land-use study by Fresno County officials for 3,000 acres in Southeast Fresno will hopefully go before the board in January 2022 for approval to begin an environmental impact review so the county can begin installing infrastructure on the land, speeding up development times for businesses looking to locate here. Among five sections of land, Eager estimates there are about 20 landowners each the County would have to negotiate with to secure land. Unlike high-speed rail, Eager said the County will not use eminent domain.

Additionally, they have been begun talking with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to explore pollution impacts to the area. Industrial development has been a hot button issue after community members worked for years to get regional specific plans approved with the City of Fresno. An Amazon sorting facility set to open in the beginning of the year at North Pointe Business Park was only approved after it reached an agreement with community organizations to upgrade streets and outfit homes to better withstand sound and pollution impacts from trucks.

Community members in Southwest Fresno have often expressed their desire for more retail businesses rather than industrial development at community meetings and Planning Commission meetings. Eager said retailers have their own metrics about population densities as well as area median incomes before locating. Nonetheless, initial plans for the 3,000 acres would put retail zoning around the perimeter to create a buffer zone for communities such as Malaga. It’s not just been industrial development that has been hot in Fresno. Eager has been working with partners in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, courting service-type businesses to expand to Fresno County. Unlike industrial land, there is office space available. The most recent industry report from Newmark Pearson Commercial in Q4 2020 has office vacancies at 10.4% with a 12-month forecast for that number to rise.

New construction for office space is beset by lenders waiting to see what the future of the service industry has in store. The same can be said for most retail, said Alan Rurik and Tom Walker, partners with Capitalize, a commercial lending broker in Fresno. Companies such as Adobe, Amazon and Apple have all made announcements that workers would continue to work from home. This has spurred lenders to scrutinize when providing loans for new construction, said Rurik. “It’s not an immediate ‘no’ if you bring in a retail center, but it’s kind of getting back to blocking and tackling, It’s like — what’s the tenant mix, what’s the location?” Walker said. “If you can’t check the boxes, you don’t have the minimum requirements then you’re probably going to have a really difficult time getting a loan in today’s environment.”


The facility housing a Fresno manufacturing company has joined the portfolio of a local development firm. Fresno-based Cook Land Co. (CLC) has announced the purchase of the LAKOS Filtration Systems manufacturing facility for $6.9 million. Located at 1365 N. Clovis Ave. in Fresno, the 93,000 square foot facility was built in 1972 by local entrepreneur Claude Laval.

This purchase is one in a series of recent acquisitions for the real estate development and management company, which has been in businesses in the Central Valley for nearly 70 years. The facility will remain headquarters for LAKOS  with Cook Land Co. owning and managing the property. “We identified the LAKOS property as a great strategic addition in our commercial real estate portfolio, furthering our commitment to invest locally right here in the Central Valley,” said Todd Cook, partner at Cook Land Co. LAKOS has leased 78,000 square feet back from Cook Land Co., and an additional 15,000 square feet has been leased to Performance Contracting Inc., a Fresno construction company in business for more than 60 years.

Major auto parts center heads to Chowchilla, promising nearly 300 new jobs.

Chowchilla is slated to host a new distribution center for AutoZone, Inc., bringing with it hundreds of new jobs to the city, the company announced Thursday. Construction isn’t scheduled to start until summer of 2022. But when it does, more than 280 new jobs in the Madera County region will follow, according to an AutoZone news release. “We are very excited for this new development and what it means for the City of Chowchilla and the people who live here,” said Chowchilla Mayor John Chavez in a city news release. “We needed a way to create new jobs for the community, so they do not have to commute outside our city for work, and they can spend more time with their families.”

A capital investment of approximately $150 million is earmarked for the project. The distribution center is expected to open in Chowchilla in 2024, the AutoZone release said. According to AutoZone, construction on the distribution center is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2022 for a projected opening in 2024. “We are thankful and applaud AutoZone for recognizing Chowchilla’s potential with a large development such as this one; it is a welcomed addition to our community,” said City of Chowchilla Administrator Rod Pruett in the city release.

AutoZone currently has over 640 stores across California. The company operates over 6,000 stores nationwide and more than 600 in Mexico, as well as over 50 in Brazil, according to the release, making it the leading retailer and distributor of automotive replacement parts and accessories in the Americas. “During our process to identify our next distribution center location, Chowchilla’s leadership team has been amazing and has helped solidify our decision to come to and be an integral part of this great community,” said Bill Rhodes, Chairman, President, and CEO of AutoZone. “Our significant investment in Chowchilla represents our commitment to always putting our customers first and is an important part of our strategy for accelerated growth.”