Heirloom unveils America’s first commercial Direct Air Capture facility

TRACY, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today, Heirloom, alongside President Biden’s Secretary of Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm, announced the United States’ first commercial Direct Air Capture (DAC) facility, which will use limestone rocks to pull already-emitted CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere in an effort to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. The announcement highlights Heirloom’s rapid technical and business progress and marks a critical milestone for both America and California’s leadership in the race to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius.

Located in Tracy, California, the facility is being formally unveiled today at a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Secretary Granholm, California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Koulanakis, the CEO of PG&E Corporation, the head of the California State Building Trades Union, the City of Tracy, elected officials, and community members.

Today’s announcement represents the first DAC facility in the United States to capture CO2, permanently sequester it, and fulfill commercial removal purchases – supporting and helping to cement the leadership of both the United States and State of California to deploy critical climate solutions to meet net zero commitments.

“Heirloom Carbon Technologies, right here in Tracy, California, is the blueprint for how America can beat climate change,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M Granholm, speaking at the official unveiling ceremony.

“This first commercial direct air capture facility is the closest thing on Earth that we have to a time machine, because it can turn back the clock on climate change by removing carbon dioxide that has already been emitted into our atmosphere,” said Heirloom’s CEO and Co-Founder, Shashank Samala. “The capacity of Heirloom’s limestone-based technology to capture CO2 from the air has gone from 1 kilogram of CO2 to up to one million, or 1000 metric tons, in just over two years. We owe it to every climate vulnerable citizen to continue to deploy our technology at the urgent pace required to reach billion-ton scale and beyond in time to stop the worst of climate change.”

“We’ve set ambitious, nation-leading climate goals to cut pollution and accelerate our transition to clean energy,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom. “Projects like this Heirloom facility are exactly the sort of big and innovative ideas that we’re embracing – using renewable energy to directly remove pollution from our air, all while creating good-paying jobs in the Central Valley. California is creating the model for expanding the economy and fighting climate change.”

This first-of-its-kind domestic DAC facility helps to advance President Biden’s 2050 net-zero goal and California Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2045 state net-zero targets.

Fully powered by renewable energy – supplied locally by Ava Community Energy – and constructed with union labor, Heirloom’s Tracy facility has been operational for nearly 1,000 hours and is actively capturing atmospheric CO2, which will be permanently sequestered in concrete through a partnership with CarbonCure Technologies. The facility has a capture capacity of up to 1,000 tons of CO2 per year and will deliver net removals to early, catalytic buyers of Heirloom’s CO2 removal credits, including Microsoft, Stripe, Shopify, and Klarna.

This facility was constructed and is being operated consistent with Heirloom’s recently-outlined principles for the responsible deployment of carbon removal – which include commitments that no carbon dioxide removed will be used for enhanced oil recovery and that no equity will be granted to companies whose core business is the production of oil and gas. The Tracy facility was constructed with union labor – in partnership with local affiliates of the State Building Trade Union, including UA Plumbers & Pipefitters (Local 442) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW 595) – demonstrating that green jobs can also be good quality jobs.

Heirloom also announced today a community governance model, which kicks off a process in January of 2024 where community groups will be convened by nonprofits — across the City of Tracy and the broader San Joaquin County — with a mission to bring together the climate technology industry and local concerned citizens. Via quarterly meetings, this process will gather routine community feedback on the facility and its operations and help to steer input for how Heirloom will provide financial and programmatic investments in community organizations.

This first commercial facility demonstrates the rapid pace at which Heirloom’s technology and business has developed since its founding in 2020. Just two years ago, the company – which uses limestone to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere – was conducting experiments in the lab to capture grams of CO2 in a petri dish. Since then, Heirloom has become one of the leading DAC companies in the world. The company raised a $53 million Series A in 2022, with backing from some of the world’s leading climate investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Earlier this year, Heirloom and CarbonCure pioneered the world’s first-ever demonstration of DAC-to-concrete storage – an important, immediately-available storage pathway that is being used to sequester CO2 captured by the Tracy facility. In August, Heirloom and other partners were selected for one of the largest projects under the Biden Administration’s DAC Hub program, with eligibility for up to $600 million in federal funding for a DAC facility in Louisiana. And in September, Heirloom and Microsoft announced one of the largest CO2 removal deals to date, with Microsoft agreeing to purchase up to 315,000 metric tons of CO2 removal from Heirloom over a 10+ year period.

Heirloom’s technology works by using limestone, an abundant, easy-to-source and inexpensive material, to pull CO2 from the air. Using a renewable-energy-powered kiln, the limestone is heated to extract the CO2, leaving a mineral powder that is thirsty to absorb more CO2. This powder is then spread onto vertically stacked trays where it acts like a sponge – pulling CO2 from the air. Once saturated with CO2, the material is returned to the kiln, the CO2 is extracted, and the process begins again. The captured CO2 gas is then permanently stored safely underground or embedded in concrete.

By using easy-to-source materials like limestone, harnessing the power of algorithms to increase the capture capacity of that material, and scaling with modularity, Heirloom’s technology represents one of the lowest cost pathways to permanent CO2 removal. The company’s goal is to remove 1 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2035 – a figure which represents 20% of today’s annual U.S. emissions and 10% of global carbon removal needed annually by 2050.

QUOTES FROM KEY COMMUNITY CHAMPIONS, SUPPORTERS & OTHERS:

CALIFORNIA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR ELENI KOULANAKIS SAID:

“California continues to lead the world toward a clean energy future. With the opening of Heirloom’s facility, California is the first state in the nation where CO2 will be permanently and durably removed from the atmosphere through Direct Air Capture and the first among nations to store atmospheric CO2 in concrete, supporting construction projects across the state,” said California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis. “As a California-born company, Heirloom has helped us achieve an incredible milestone that further cements our state as a global climate leader and brings us closer to achieving our goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.”

MAYOR OF THE CITY OF TRACY, CA NANCY YOUNG SAID:

“Tracy is no stranger to the impacts of climate change, so we are excited to make history by welcoming Heirloom’s first commercial direct air capture facility to our community. Not only have they brought innovative technology to Tracy to scrub our air of pollution, but they have also sponsored the planting of additional trees to enhance our urban forest. We are proud to be part of the solution when it comes to the impacts of climate change, as advancing ‘green projects’ and supporting climate initiatives are consistent with the goals set by our City Council to improve our quality of life here in Tracy.”

CEO OF PG&E CORPORATION PATRICIA POPPE SAID:

“Here in California, our customers and hometowns are experiencing the impacts of climate change now. All of us need to be a part of the solution to not only help reach net zero emissions but to begin to heal the planet. That’s why we’re proud to enable innovative projects like Heirloom’s direct air capture facility in Tracy, supporting our shared, statewide goals for a decarbonized future.”

CALIFORNIA SENATOR ANNA CABALLERO SAID:

“Last year, I authored Senate Bill 905 to power the deployment of carbon removal projects, enable its infrastructure, and develop smart regulations. Today, we bear witness to how such projects are coming to life in California, removing greenhouse gas emissions from our atmosphere, while ensuring our state’s strict environmental standards,” said State Senator Anna Caballero. “What’s on display in Tracy, underscores that California’s climate policy is catalyzing private-sector-led and government-enabled solutions, which honor the scientific consensus that we must cut emissions and remove climate-harming carbon. We can achieve our goals, create environmental and economic benefit because of the partnership between our local communities, government, and industry.”

CALIFORNIA STATE SENATOR JOSH BECKER SAID:

“Carbon removal is necessary to get California and the world to net zero and start restoring a safe climate, and our state has a vital role to play when it comes to enabling the very carbon removal markets and clean-energy transformation that we need. Here at Heirloom, we see tremendous progress and they are doing it right: powered by clean energy and creating high-tech, good quality, green jobs in our state. We must continue to accelerate this progress by passing legislation to establish carbon removal markets that can drive demand for carbon removal and mobilize financing of many more projects like this.”

PRESIDENT OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE BUILDING TRADES CHRIS HANNAN SAID:

“Building Trades’ craftspeople brought this groundbreaking facility to life and our skilled and trained members are leading the way in building and supporting carbon capture innovation across the state and country. We are meeting the climate crisis by supporting technology like Heirloom’s direct air capture as well as hydrogen, biofuels, offshore wind and battery storage. We are training the next generation of skilled construction worker in these exciting technologies. California is renowned worldwide for both our innovation and our hard working, highly trained construction workforce—both of which you see reflected in this important project.”

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20231109906701/en/In-historic-moment-for-CO2-removal-Heirloom-unveils-America%E2%80%99s-first-commercial-Direct-Air-Capture-facility-advancing-national-net-zero-goals

This electric flying taxi has been approved for takeoff — sort of

Electric air taxis got one step closer to liftoff this week, when federal regulators gave one company the green light to start flight testing its new production prototype. California-based transportation company Joby Aviation announced Wednesday that the Federal Aviation Administration had granted its aircraft a “Special Airworthiness Certificate,” which allows it to operate in U.S. airspace with certain restrictions.

The FAA confirmed in an email to NPR that it had issued the certificate “for research and development purposes” on June 21. It said it had also granted one to a similar vehicle made by another company, Archer, the week before. This is actually the third Joby aircraft to get this certification, the FAA confirmed. The company has been building and flying pre-production prototypes thousands of miles since 2017. But this time around is significant, because it’s the first of its factory-built vehicles to be approved for test flights. Until now, Bloomberg explains, the company could only demo a prototype made by hand — as opposed to the ones now coming off its production line.

Joby aims to begin commercial passenger operations in the U.S. in 2025, pending FAA certification. It has partnered with Delta Air Lines to deliver a “transformational, sustainable home-to-airport transportation service” for fliers, set to roll out first in New York and Los Angeles. That means customers in those cities would be able to reserve a seat for air taxi trips to and from the airports when booking Delta flights, the companies say. An animation on Joby’s website shows one such journey, from a heliport in downtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport, completed in seven minutes (as opposed to 49 minutes by car). Beyond airport trips, Joby advertises its air taxis as “an aerial rideshare service” that customers can book through an app, as an alternative to ground transportation — at least in some ways.

“Flying with us might feel more like getting into an SUV than boarding a plane,” its website says.

But, as safety regulators and urban planning experts told NPR, there’s a lot that needs to happen before then — and many accessibility and sustainability questions to address along the way.

What exactly is a flying taxi?

These Jetson-esque contraptions are technically known as eVTOL aircraft, which stands for “electric vertical take-off and landing.” Joby says theirs is designed to carry four passengers and one pilot at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, and can travel up to 150 miles on a single charge. The company says it will be significantly quieter than helicopters — and more affordable, too. Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt told the Washington Post in 2021 the company hopes to begin services at an average price of around $3 per mile — comparable to that of an taxi or Uber — and eventually move that down to below $1 per mile.

“Our goal is to actually be competitive with the cost of ground transportation, but to deliver you to your destination … five times faster and with a dramatically better experience,” Bevirt told Bloomberg TV on Wednesday.

Many eVTOL companies are working closely with automakers to make their products a reality (which Flying Magazine attributes to automakers’ interest in electrification and manufacturing expertise). In Joby’s case, that partner — and its largest external shareholder — is Toyota. Toyota has invested some $400 million in the company since 2020, and collaborated on the design of its production line and the manufacturing of the aircraft itself. Dozens of its engineers work with the Joby team in California, and the two signed a long-term agreement in April for Toyota to supply key parts for the aircraft’s production.

What happens next?

On Wednesday, Joby unveiled the first aircraft to come off its pilot production line in Marina, Calif., in front of a crowd of employees and guests including California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Today’s achievement is the culmination of years of investment in our processes and technology and it marks a major step on our journey to scaled production,” Bevirt said in a statement.

Despite this week’s major milestones, Bevirt says the company is still in the “crawl phase” of its journey. The pilot manufacturing line currently has the potential to build just “a few tens of aircraft per year,” according to Bevirt. He says Joby is working with states to select a site for the first phase of manufacturing, where it can increase that number to hundreds. And before the air taxis will be available for airport rideshares, they’re going to the U.S. military. Several are headed to Edwards Air Force Base in California next year as part of Joby’s $131 million contract with the U.S. Air Force. They will be used to “demonstrate a range of potential logistics use cases, including cargo and passenger transportation.”

Regulators — and competitors — are laying the groundwork

The FAA says it’s steadily preparing for air taxi travel to become a reality — at least, at some point. In May, the agency released an updated blueprint for airspace and procedure changes to accommodate this type of aircraft. Earlier this month, it proposed a comprehensive rule for training and certifying pilots. And it says it will be releasing an implementation plan next month that shows how all of its efforts can help the industry scale safely.

“Safety will dictate the certification timeline, but we could see air taxis in the skies by 2024 or 2025,” the FAA said.

While Joby appears to be towards the front of the pack, it’s competing with dozens of companies. Another frontrunner, Archer, said earlier this month that it — and its partner, automaker Stellantis — are pivoting from the “concept” to “execution” phase, with its Georgia-based manufacturing facility set to come online by mid-2024. And companies in other countries, including Germany and China, are also working on similar vehicles. Europe could see flying taxis taking off relatively soon: French officials are hoping to offer a small fleet of them to people attending the Paris Olympics next summer.

Who gets to fly first?

Joby bills itself as providing a “faster, cleaner, and smarter way to carry people through their lives,” with “a green alternative to driving that’s bookable at the touch of an app.” But, experts say, that doesn’t necessarily mean this kind of transportation is going to be available to just anyone who wants to spend less time in rush hour traffic. It’s a great innovation for those with means, says Daniel Sperling, the founding chair of the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and Economy at the University of California, Davis.

But, he writes in an email, the industry faces challenges, from noise to NIMBY concerns. There’s also the optics, he says: “Rich people flying above the rest of us normal folks.” Because this type of transportation will likely mainly be provided by private sector companies, there are concerns that it will exclude low-income people, says Petra Hurtado, the director of research and foresight at the American Planning Association.

“Unless there will be funding mechanisms to make this an affordable option to all, integrating it into existing transit systems, I don’t think it will be accessible to all,” she tells NPR over email, adding that local governments may not have a say in how they operate because the skies are regulated by the FAA.

Hurtado also points out that while air taxis are being billed as sustainable, that depends on how they’re being used.

“If it replaces the person who would be driving or taking a taxi, it might generate less [greenhouse gas] emissions for that one trip, but how many air taxis would we need to replace the majority of cars in one particular route?” she added. “I wouldn’t want to see a sky crowded with air taxis.”

In an ideal world, Hurtado says, air taxis would fill existing gaps in urban transportation systems rather than create new ones. She’d also like to see cities take a more proactive approach to transportation planning in general, and learn from past mistakes. That would mean, for example, considering the negative impacts not only of where air taxis land and take off, but along their route as well.

“Too often in the past have transportation projects impacted marginalized communities and disadvantaged populations,” she wrote, pointing to highways as an example. “I hope these mistakes won’t be repeated with this type of transportation system.”

https://www.capradio.org/news/npr/story?storyid=1185060325

Amazon’s started to deliver orders by drones in California and Texas

Amazon is now delivering orders by drones in California and Texas with the aim to ultimately fly out packages to customers’ homes within an hour, Ars Technica reports. The retail giant’s drone delivery service, Amazon Prime Air, already dropped a small number of packages via drone in the backyards of customers in the run-up to Christmas in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas.

“Our aim is to safely introduce our drones to the skies. We are starting in these communities and will gradually expand deliveries to more customers over time,” Amazon Air spokesperson Natalie Banke told KTXL Fox 40.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave Amazon Part 135 approval to send packages by drone in 2020, as well as filing Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact/Record of Decision documents for Lockeford on November 14th and College Station on December 12th.

The rural town of Lockeford, California, is located 50 miles southeast of Sacramento and has only about 3,500 residents, while College Station, Texas, is a medium-sized city 100 miles northwest of Houston that’s home to Texas A&M.

Those living in either town are eligible to sign up and place orders, while Amazon will notify customers elsewhere when drone delivery is available in their area. The most recent filings indicate Amazon’s deliveries will be available within 3.73 miles of its delivery center in Texas and within four miles of its drone depot (aka Prime Air Drone Delivery Center, or PADDC) in California.

FAA:

Operations from the College Station PADDC would occur during daylight hours up to five days per week. The operating area is divided into four sectors, with each sector having a maximum of approximately 50 delivery flights per operating day. Only one aircraft in each sector can be airborne at any time. Operations from the Lockeford PADDC would occur during daylight hours up to five days per week. The operating area is divided into four sectors, with each sector having a maximum of approximately 50 delivery flights per operating day. Only one aircraft in each sector can be airborne at any time.

After placing an order, customers will receive both tracking information and an estimated delivery time they can expect the drone to drop off the package in their backyard.

The drones are intentionally shaped in a hexagonal fashion with six propellers to improve stability and minimize high-frequency sound waves, Amazon claims. Still, though the MK27-2 delivery drones fly autonomously and are programmed to avoid running into obstacles like chimneys, Amazon says it’s currently using humans to monitor deliveries.

Safety will continue to be a consideration, particularly given some setbacks Amazon faced in developing the drone delivery program, including crashes. In one incident at its test site in Pendleton, Oregon, a drone fell 160 feet and sparked a brush fire that stretched across 25 acres, as reported by Insider and Bloomberg.

At current, Amazon is currently working on a new and reportedly safer MK30 drone that will be available to use in 2024. It should be lighter and smaller than MK27-2 delivery drones, handle high temperatures and light rain better, and go further. Amazon is just one of many companies working on their own drone delivery services. Alphabet and Walmart, for example, launched versions of their own in the past year to select customers in certain areas.

https://www.theverge.com/2022/12/28/23529705/amazon-drone-delivery-prime-air-california-texas

FRESNO TECH FIRM ACQUIRES SAN JOSE COMPANY FOR $1.7M

Fresno-based Xobee Networks announced Wednesday that it has acquired Myers Network Solutions, a tech solutions provider based out of San Jose.

The acquisition aims to build on Xobee Networks managed IT service clientele as well as allow Xobee to provide resources and products to even more businesses in the Bay Area.

“Through this investment, Xobee will embolden and scale our resources and services to clients within San Jose and across the state,” said Eric Rawn, Xobee Networks founder and CEO. “We are investing in Myers Network Solutions because they are the marquee computer business solutions experts in San Jose, and we are well-positioned to help strengthen their team, resources, and products toward current and future clients.”

Xobee Networks agreed to purchase Myers Network Solutions for $1.7 million. Xobee plans to maintain the entire staff at Myers as they welcome them into the Xobee Networks brand.

Xobee Networks’ addition of Myers Network Solutions adds strength to a workforce of more than 100 skilled tech professionals already at Xobee.

With this acquisition, Xobee hopes to expand its managed support, cloud computing, cybersecurity, telecommunications, web development and networking services at an affordable cost.

“Since the agreement between Xobee Networks and Myers Network Solutions earlier this year, Xobee has been able to increase revenue month over month with an 18% growth in host services offerings,” according to a Xobee news release.

Xobee Networks was founded in 1996 by Eric Rawn, and has since grown to serve thousands of clients throughout California.

Rawn also owns tech solutions firm BCT Consulting in Fresno.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/fresno-tech-firm-acquires-san-jose-company-for-1-7m/

Valley awarded $118M for clean ag equipment

More clean machines are coming to valley farms. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District has accepted an additional $118.8 million to replace agricultural equipment in the San Joaquin Valley, with the funding from the California Air Resources Board seen as a step in reducing agricultural emissions through regulatory and incentive-based strategies. The FARMER Program (Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions) is a collaborative effort between the agricultural community, the air district and CARB in addressing emissions from agricultural sources, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley.

To date, the district has been the recipient of $432,129,600 in FARMER Program funding during the first four funding cycles. “The district appreciates the state recognizing the public health benefit that results from the FARMER funding,” said Samir Sheikh, executive director for the Valley Air District. “The San Joaquin Valley agricultural sector feeds the world and programs like FARMER are critical to supporting the ongoing transition to more sustainable and air-friendly practices.”

Valley agriculture, in partnership with the district and CARB, has invested more than $1.7 billion in public and private funding towards replacing nearly 17,000 pieces of old, higher-polluting equipment and implementing other measures to reduce emissions associated with valley agricultural operations. In March, the valley district approved increases to incentive levels for its Agriculture Tractor Replacement program and added two new incentive tiers for smaller farming operations. Operations of 100 acres and less in size can now receive up to 80% off the cost of equipment, and operations between 101 and 500 acres in size can now receive up to 70% off.

Funding opportunities can be found on the program’s webpage at ww2.valleyair.org/grants/tractor-replacement-program. Smaller farmers also receive an increased incentive under the district’s Alternatives to Agricultural Burning program. The Valley Air District covers eight counties including San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and portions of Kern.

High-speed rail stations ‘one step closer to reality’ in the Central Valley

FRESNO, Calif. – The design contract for the Central Valley’s high-speed rail stations has been approved by the California High-Speed Rail Board – another step towards making the project a reality.

On Thursday, the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s (Authority) Board of Directors unanimously approved awarding the design and support services contract for the Merced, Fresno, Kings/Tulare, and Bakersfield stations that will serve high-speed rail passengers on the initial 171-mile segment. The Authority awarded an approximately $35 million station design contract to Foster + Partners and Arup for the first two separately funded phases. The first to advance the design work at the four station sites. This includes identifying right-of-way and utility relocation requirements necessary for construction. This phase is estimated to take 30 months. The second is to progress to the final design and construction-ready documents, construction support, and commissioning.

“The first four Central Valley high-speed rail stations are one step closer to reality. High-speed rail stations will transform cities, spur economic development and create community hubs within the heart of our state.”

TOM RICHARDS, CALIFORNIA HIGH-SPEED RAIL AUTHORITY CHAIRMAN.

Currently, the California high-speed rail project is under construction along 119 miles in California’s Central Valley at more than 30 active job sites. In the past several months, the Authority also started advanced design work on the alignment to extend work north into Merced and south into Bakersfield.

https://www.yourcentralvalley.com/news/local-news/high-speed-rail-stations-one-step-closer-to-reality-in-the-central-valley/

High-Speed Rail completes second structure in Kings County

The High-Speed Rail Authority has completed the second Kings County structure for the state project — the Kent Avenue Grade Separation located at Kent Avenue west of Highway 43 and south of Hanford. The Authority announced the completion of the 215-foot-long overcrossing, which will take vehicles over the future high-speed rail tracks, on Wednesday. Work crews placed 12 pre-cast concrete girders spanning 56 to 91 feet long to form the structure’s deck.

The new structure is the project’s latest progression in the Central Valley, following the summer completion of the Jackson Avenue separation, which was also in Kings County, and the Avenue 15½ grade separation in Madera County.

In addition, the Authority recently awarded contracts to advance design along the Merced to Madera and Fresno to Bakersfield project sections, expanding the 119-mile segment to 171 miles of electrified high-speed rail under development and construction.

https://hanfordsentinel.com/news/local/high-speed-rail-completes-second-structure-in-kings-county/article_60167afc-192b-5411-9410-736cc7e1f4c4.html

High-Speed Rail Authority Completes Overpass, Opens Roadway to Traffic in Madera County

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. – The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority), in collaboration with contractor Tutor-Perini / Zachry / Parsons, announced today the Avenue 15 ½ Grade Separation in Madera County is now open to traffic. The new overpass is located at Road 29 / Santa Fe Drive, east of the City of Madera. It took 16 pre-cast concrete girders and nearly 117 pre-cast concrete deck panels to complete the structure, which spans 468 feet, is 40 feet wide and takes traffic over the existing BNSF rail and future high-speed rail lines.

Completing another structure in the Central Valley is the latest sign of progress for the high-speed rail project. At its Board of Directors meeting earlier this month, the Authority awarded two contracts to advance design along the Merced to Madera and Fresno to Bakersfield Locally Generated Alternative project sections, expanding the 119-mile segment to 171 miles of electrified high-speed rail under development and construction.

In addition, the Board also approved the environmental documents for the San Francisco to San Jose project section, meaning 422 of the 500-mile high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles has been environmentally cleared. Earlier this summer, the Authority announced the creation of more than 8,000 jobs since the start of the project, with a majority going to residents in the Central Valley.

NEWS RELEASE: High-Speed Rail Authority Completes Overpass, Opens Roadway to Traffic in Madera County – California High Speed Rail

Kings County supports basing new F-35 squadron at NAS Lemoore

This week the Kings County Board of Supervisors wrote a strong letter of support to add a new F-35 squadron to the base at NAS Lemoore with a nationwide four-location competition underway. In their letter of support, the supervisors said: “With an excess of 11,800 jobs attributed to the base, and a payroll exceeding $475 million, NAS Lemoore represents the single largest employer in Kings County. The continued success of NAS Lemoore is critical to our local economy. “We stand firm in our commitment to the support of NAS Lemoore – the nation’s premier Naval master jet base. Please know that the County of Kings and the Kings County Board of Supervisors highly support the Department of the Air Force and National Guard Bureau’s decision to consider locating the F-35A Lightning II at NAS Lemoore.”

The local competition includes Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Supervisor Doug Verboon said they support the plan to base the squadron, with some 80 new personnel, at Lemoore, and noted the noisy aircraft would impact more city residents in Fresno compared to the Kings County base, which is surrounded by farmland. The National Guard Bureau and Department of the Air Force are inviting the public to learn about the proposal to locate the F-35A Lightning II at NAS Lemoore. An informational meeting to learn more about the proposal, ask questions and to submit comments will be held in person on Wednesday, Aug. 10, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the L.T.A. Portuguese Hall located at 470 Champion St. in Lemoore.

Lemoore is one of the four preferred locations that are being considered for the beddown of F-35A aircraft that would replace the legacy F-15C/D aircraft. In addition to Fresno, the competing locations for the F-35A beddowns are:

• Barnes Air National Guard Base at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, Westfield, Massachusetts.

• NAS Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Belle Chasse, Louisiana.

Faraday Future deal pending

Faraday Future and an investor have indicated a possible deal to invest $100,000 to $600,000 with the start-up car maker, enough to get production going in Hanford if the agreement is done. A filing with the SEC indicates a deal could be consummated Aug. 8.

Gas prices

Kings County gasoline prices are lower again this week dropping 60 cents in the past month, says AAA. Diesel is down 50 cents. The average in the county today is $5.51 a gallon but you can buy gas here for $4.64, $4.65 or $4.66 at local stations. As for oil, it is down to the $91 a barrel range from a high of $121 in mid-June. Oil prices fell more than 3% Wednesday after data showed U.S. inventories rose more than expected and as investors digested the latest OPEC+ decision to raise crude output by 100,000 barrels per day for next month. Last month, President Biden visited Saudi Arabia and called on OPEC to increase production, but capacity constraints and the inability of some member states to meet output targets made the prospect of any significant supply boost unlikely. Meanwhile, EIA data showed stocks of crude unexpectedly rose by 4.467 million barrels last week, the most in a month, and compared to forecasts of a 0.629 million fall.

Building homes

So far this year, Visalia-based San Joaquin Homes is the busiest home builder in Kings County, permitting 115 new single family residences compared to second place Lennar Homes with 40 home starts, according to figures from Construction Monitor.

What’s this?

A decline in the interest rate on a 30-year mortgage has had a positive effect on several areas of the real estate market in the past week. “The 30-year fixed rate saw the largest weekly decline since 2020, falling 31 basis points to 5.43%,” said Joel Kan, Mortgage Bankers associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. “The drop in rates led to increases in both refinance and purchase applications, but compared to a year ago, activity is still depressed.”

New pistachio plant slated for Westside

Western Fresno County already has had the big 100-silo Wonderful Pistachio plant and a big Assemi family plant (Touchstone) on the drawing board since 2018, a 49-silo project that has been challenged by Wonderful and delayed for four years in this highly competitive industry. Now the Stamoules family wants to join the party to build a large pistachio hulling, processing, and packing facility on 98 acres on the northwest corner of S. Newcomb and W. Muscat avenues approximately 9.7 mile south of Firebaugh. Once all phases are complete the plant would sport an impressive 60 silos. Stamoules Produce Co., Inc., based in Mendota, was launched in the 1920s as a cantaloupe grower when the Greek founder Spero Stamoules immigrated to the U.S. According to their application to the County, the proposed project would be implemented in four phases.

Visalia loses round in court to Sierra Club over ag mitigation

In a July 21 ruling Tulare County Superior Court Judge David Mathias ruled against the City of Visalia over their revised program to not require ag land mitigation from developers who want to bring farmland into the city for urban development. The previous policy, part of the General Plan, would have required developers – typically home builders – to pay into a fund that would set aside ag land elsewhere. The mitigation policy would apply to ag land in Tiers 11 and 111 – generally at the city’s urban edge. The city’s general plan, adopted in 2014, featured a three-tier system to encourage development first in Tier 1 before future subdivisions in Tier 11 and 111 were added.

The mitigation policy has been championed by those who want to discourage sprawl on the outskirts of the city and promote infill within the city. The fee developers would pay would help buy the mitigation land on a one-to-one basis. The judge did not rule on the merits of the ag mitigation policy but ruled against the city for not fully assessing the change in policy under CEQA that ended the Ag Mitigation Program (AMP). The ruling means that the ag mitigation program will stay for now. Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen said he was “surprised – thinking the plan we made was ironclad.” Now he says he understands “this is not a minor fix and we need to know if this will delay us.”

Sierra Club attorney Babak Naficy commented “that the City of Visalia will be mandated to rescind their amended policy,” adding that the city consultant study on the plan was faulty. Court documents show that the Sierra Club and Central Valley Partnership challenged Visalia’s adopted amendment last August by filing a petition for writ of mandate, contending Visalia lacked substantial evidence to support removal of the AMP requirement; and that Visalia abused its discretion by preparing an “addendum” to a previously certified environmental impact report (EIR) for the policy change rather than a subsequent or supplemental EIR.

Judge Mathias agreed, saying ”The court finds use of an addendum in the circumstances of this case is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and, therefore, grants the petition. The court’s ruling is confined to this limited issue, and specifically does not extend to the ultimate issue of whether the AMP requirement may or should be removed from the general plan.”

Seven Visalia developments impacted now

For home builders wanting to build in Tier 11, the effect is the same until the city goes through a full EIR to remove the AMP from the general plan – a lengthy process that could put off new approvals for months or even years and with an uncertain outcome. Who will be impacted? Mayor Nelsen says he understands there are seven Visalia housing projects ready to move into Tier 11 in the pipeline after several years of a boom in permit activity. “For those seven projects to move forward, we need to iron this out,” he said. Now the Tulare County judge has ruled the city action needs to be rescinded – putting in limbo new applications for subdivisions in Tier 11, some 1,500 acres inside the urban boundary. The need for Tier 11 land to build is clear because most of the Tier 1 land in the city has been subdivided.

https://hanfordsentinel.com/business/kings-county-supports-basing-new-f-35-squadron-at-nas-lemoore/article_9e8a2a92-8965-530b-b14f-9f6d8ab070a7.html

Amazon Picks Central Valley Town for First Package Deliveries by Drone

Retailing giant Amazon announced Monday it picked a small town in the Central Valley near Stockton to be the first location for public drone deliveries. Deliveries to Lockeford, a town of 3,500 on State Route 88, would begin later this year. This would be the first time Amazon makes drone deliveries to the American public, and it follows several pilot projects by companies such as Walmart, United Parcel Service and FedEx. The online retailer said it was working with Federal Aviation Administration and local officials to secure permits. The drones will have the capability to fly beyond-line-of-sight and will be programmed to drop parcels in the backyards of customers. “Lockeford residents will play an important role in defining the future,” Amazon said. “Their feedback about Prime Air, with drones delivering packages in their backyards, will help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere.” The company predicted that drone delivery “could one day become just as common as seeing an Amazon delivery van pull up outside your house.” Amazon made its first customer delivery by drone in the United Kingdom in 2016 and had touted its plans for drone delivery for years before that.

https://timesofsandiego.com/tech/2022/06/13/amazon-picks-central-valley-town-for-first-package-deliveries-by-drone/