How ‘solar canals’ could help California reach sustainable energy goals

TURLOCK, Calif. — Amid intense heat waves that strained the California energy system this month, attention has been placed on efforts to build on renewable energy in the country’s most populous state. At the state level, California is gradually taking steps to run on carbon-free electricity by 2045, and legislation pushing for that calls on retail and state-run electricity sold to come from renewable sources. The transition has reached the automotive industry, with recent legislation pushing for more electric vehicles to be sold and the slow phasing out of sales of gasoline-powered cars. Large investments in clean energy infrastructure will be needed to meet California’s renewable energy goals, but some, like the state’s oldest irrigation district, are getting creative in how to get there. Irrigation districts are tasked with the distribution and management of water that has beneficial uses like agriculture or drinking.

Last year, a study published in Nature Sustainability by researchers from University of California at Santa Cruz along with UC Merced found that it may be possible to tap into the network of public water delivery canals as a way to both conserve water and advance the state’s renewable energy efforts. The researchers studied the concept of “solar canals,” which includes assembling a canopy of solar panels to prevent evaporation while also generating electric energy. The idea is being put to the test in an experiment called Project Nexus. Brandi McKuin, the lead researcher on the study and current assistant project scientist at UC Merced, said the amount of evaporation from canals in California varies by location and time of year. Placing solar panels over the water channels would not only help reduce a percentage of evaporation, but could also boost energy production, she said, since water cools slower than land.

For now, Project Nexus is starting small and is mainly a test of whether the research can hold true in practice, McKuin said. But the project views the state’s canals as a gold mine for not just energy, but information that can inform future energy projects. Those involved are going in with more questions than answers. The research suggests that covering all of California’s canals – spanning roughly 4,000 miles – with solar panels could save up to 63 billion gallons of water and generate 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually. One gigawatt is equal to the energy consumption of 100 million LEDs, or as others put it, enough to power 750,000 homes.

Other benefits include reducing weed growth in the canals and replacing diesel-powered irrigation pumps with solar-powered engines, which lessens the impact on air quality from nitrogen oxide and tiny particulate matter given off by the diesel pumps. While the solar canal idea is new for the region, it’s a sign that “out-of-the-box” ideas are worth exploring to meet the state’s renewable energy capacity, McKuin said. But she said more research is needed, as well as policy, to drive new types of solutions. “There isn’t a single silver bullet solution to our water crisis,” McKuin told the PBS NewsHour. “California is facing a challenging water future, and it’s our job as researchers to find solutions wherever we can, and solar canals is just one of the solutions that can contribute to drought resilience for the state.” The project has a $20 million backing in the state’s current budget, and construction is expected to be completed in 2023.

Eye on local, statewide benefits

The idea of solar canals struck a chord with the Turlock Irrigation District, which operates about 90 miles north of Fresno. The agency provides both water and electricity – a rare operation in the state. mMost irrigation districts just deliver seasonal water to farms and communities, but the Turlock Irrigation District is one of eight “electric balancing authorities” in the state, which help maintain “consistent electric frequency” of the grid, according to the California Energy Commission. The Turlock district’s venture into electric utility began in 1923 after the Don Pedro Dam was built at the Don Pedro Reservoir in the foothills east of the city of Turlock, giving the district an opportunity to generate its own electricity. The following year, the district supported more than 3,000 customers with electricity. Today, nearly 250,000 customers are provided electricity by the district.

The largest balancing authority in California is the Independent System Operator, providing 80 percent of the state’s power load. During the heat wave in early September, which brought record triple-digit temperatures to much of the West, the California ISO issued a Flex Alert to cellphones calling on consumers to conserve energy by shutting down appliances in order to avert an energy shortage. mThe Turlock Irrigation District also saw historic energy peaks, but it did not issue similar urgent calls to conserve energy, said Josh Weimer, a spokesperson for the district, mainly because the district has been able to carefully manage its own water and power distribution, as it has always done in its 135-year history.

However, in recent years, the district, like many other agencies, has had to reconsider how much water it is able to deliver to its customers as it faces the increasing challenges of drought and heat. Sustained drought in the West has led to dwindling water supply in recent years, leaving key reservoirs like Lake Mead at historically low levels. The growing uncertainties that come with climate change are hitting in many places and pose tough questions about California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack, where the irrigation district’s water begins to form. Forecasts suggest the Sierra will have less snowpack in coming years due to the effects of greenhouse emissions, and rainstorms have the potential to be wetter than usual. Those events could have effects downstream for communities. “We’re not left out of being impacted by a change in climate and multi-year consecutive drought,” Weimer told the NewsHour.

It’s why the idea of placing solar panels over roughly two miles of its more than 250 miles of canals in the middle of California seemed worth exploring, Weimer said. His district could use more water to grow walnuts, peaches and almonds and feed its dairy industry in addition to examining an idea that could potentially improve the district and state’s energy supply. And though the district will be the first in the nation to jump into the solar canals idea, “it’s worth changing the status quo and how we operate our system because of the potential benefit,” Weimer said. The solar canal study suggests conserving water in the canals could reduce groundwater pumping and lead to fewer deserted fields due to water shortages. Communities in the San Joaquin Valley have routinely dealt with unreliable water supply from drought and over pumping. The state’s Department of Water Resources supports the project, and if the test run at the Turlock Irrigation District is able to produce the intended results, the agency will be a crucial body to extend the project to the state’s water systems. “As California prepares for a possible fourth dry year, the state is excited to examine new ways that will improve water conservation, provide a clean energy resource, and build drought resilience,” Karla Nemeth, director of the Department of Water Resources, said in a statement.

Origins of the idea

Inspiration for placing solar panels over canals came from a similar project in Gujarat, India, in 2014. The developers of Project Nexus and founders of Solar AquaGrid LLC commissioned the study of solar canals with support from Texas-based NRG Energy and Bay Area-based Citizen Group. The India project informed U.S. researchers. Jordan Harris, co-founder and CEO of AquaGrid, said the new solar canals can use 50 percent less raw material than the India project, in addition to allowing for more space around the panels for easy maintenance. Project Nexus will include various solar canopies designed for the shapes and sizes of different canals within the experiment to study the impact of each type of canopy, Harris said.

The Turlock district’s operation as a water and electricity provider gave the founders of AquaGrid extra interest because searching for land to build solar farms can be expensive and difficult. Placing solar panels over existing waterways and property is not only cost-effective but removes the possibility of building on unused land that could negatively impact the environment. Solar farms take up a large area, and sometimes the problem is finding enough space to construct them. “There simply isn’t enough land to build that much solar and wind,” Harris said. “So, the idea of looking at already disturbed space [like] in every rooftop, every parking lot and 4,000 miles of canals and reservoirs, is a huge opportunity to solve problems.”

Ultimately, Harris said he hopes a project like Project Nexus in California’s Central Valley will help reimagine the way people think of canals and other infrastructure in the move toward renewable energy. He added the state’s engineering of thousands of miles of canals that divert water to major cities and industries will have a chance to adapt to the changing climate conditions, if the project were expanded. If California were its own country, it would have the fifth-largest economy in the world, but Harris said such prosperity can’t continue if the environment is ignored. “In our quest to satisfy human needs, we’ve often been irresponsible, and built big cities where there aren’t the natural resources, so we figure out how to bring the resources. I think there’s a way to honor the landscape and the land, and show responsibility and respect, and I think that’s what this type of innovation can do,” Harris said.


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sealed Air (NYSE: SEE) has invested $9 million in a solar farm that is now powering its Madera, California manufacturing facility. The solar panels, which sit on 11 acres of company-owned land adjacent to the facility, are expected to help reduce energy spend at this site by $1 million annually. The 265,000 square foot plant, which manufactures BUBBLE WRAP® brand original cushioning, SEALED AIR® brand Korrvu® retention and suspension packaging, mailers, and other solutions, will have 98% of its electricity powered by the solar field. “The installation of these solar panels contributes to SEE’s overarching sustainability strategy and advances our transition to net-zero carbon emissions in our operations by 2040. Through these solar panels, we are advancing our use of renewable energy, lessening the energy intensity of operations and reducing the company’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Emile Chammas, SEE’s Chief Operating Officer. “We are on a journey to leave our world better than we find it and the completion of this project is an important milestone in the strategic investments we’re making to achieve that goal.”

SEE partnered with TotalEnergies (which recently acquired SunPower Commercial and Industrial Solutions) to design and install the 3.5-megawatt ground mount solar project, which includes 8,975 solar panels, along with a 770 kW/3,080 kilowatt-hour battery storage system. “TotalEnergies is proud to be SEE’s energy transformation partner as they invest to achieve ambitious sustainability targets,” said Eric Potts, vice president of TotalEnergies Distributed Generation USA. “Renewable energy is a business priority for both of our companies, so we are thrilled that this project will deliver long-term benefits to SEE’s Madera facility while advancing global progress toward carbon neutrality.”

Over the course of the first year, the solar project will help avoid 4,982 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 72,172 metric tons of carbon dioxide over 15 years, which is equivalent to:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from more than 15,000 passenger vehicles driven for one year
  • The carbon dioxide emission from annual electricity use for more than 14,000 homes
  • Carbon sequestered by nearly 1,200,000 tree seedlings grown over the course of a decade


About SEE

Sealed Air (NYSE: SEE) is in business to protect, solve critical packaging challenges, and make our world better than we find it. Our automated packaging solutions promote a safer, more resilient, and less wasteful global food supply chain, enable e-commerce, and protect goods transported worldwide. Our globally recognized brands include CRYOVAC® brand food packaging, SEALED AIR® brand protective packaging, AUTOBAG® brand automated systems, BUBBLE WRAP® brand packaging, SEE Automation solutions and prismiq smart packaging and digital printing.

SEE’s Operating Model, together with our industry-leading expertise in materials, engineering and technology, create value through more sustainable, automated, and digitally connected packaging solutions. We are leading the packaging industry in creating a more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable future and have pledged to design or advance 100% of our packaging materials to be recyclable or reusable by 2025, with a bolder goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions in our global operations by 2040. Our Global Impact Report highlights how we are shaping the future of the packaging industry. We are committed to a diverse workforce and caring, inclusive culture through our 2025 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion pledge.

SEE generated $5.5 billion in sales in 2021 and has approximately 16,500 employees who serve customers in 114 countries/territories. To learn more, visit

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This press release contains “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 concerning our business, consolidated financial condition and results of operations. Forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties, many of which are outside our control, which could cause actual results to differ materially from these statements. Therefore, you should not rely on any of these forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements can be identified by such words as “anticipate,” “believe,” “plan,” “assume,” “could,” “should,” “estimate,” “expect,” “intend,” “potential,” “seek,” “predict,” “may,” “will” and similar references to future periods. All statements other than statements of historical facts included in this press release regarding our strategies, prospects, financial condition, operations, costs, plans and objectives are forward-looking statements. Examples of forward-looking statements include, among others, statements we make regarding expected future operating results, expectations regarding the results of restructuring and other programs, anticipated levels of capital expenditures and expectations of the effect on our financial condition of claims, litigation, environmental costs, contingent liabilities and governmental and regulatory investigations and proceedings. The following are important factors that we believe could cause actual results to differ materially from those in our forward-looking statements: global economic and political conditions, currency translation and devaluation effects, changes in raw material pricing and availability, competitive conditions, the success of new product offerings, consumer preferences, the effects of animal and food-related health issues, the effects of epidemics or pandemics, including the Coronavirus Disease 2019, negative impacts related to the ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine and related sanctions, export restrictions and other counteractions thereto, changes in energy costs, environmental matters, the success of our restructuring activities, the success of our merger, acquisition and equity investment strategies, the success of our financial growth, profitability, cash generation and manufacturing strategies and our cost reduction and productivity efforts, changes in our credit ratings, the tax benefit associated with the Settlement agreement (as defined in our most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K), regulatory actions and legal matters, and the other information referenced in the “Risk Factors” section appearing in our most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K, as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and as revised and updated by our Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q and Current Reports on Form 8-K. Any forward-looking statement made by us is based only on information currently available to us and speaks only as of the date on which it is made. We undertake no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statement, whether written or oral, that may be made from time to time, whether as a result of new information, future developments or otherwise.

Aemetis Completes 20 Miles of Biogas Pipeline and Receives Merced County Approval for Final Stage of Main Pipeline Construction

Aemetis, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMTX), a renewable natural gas and renewable fuels company focused on below zero carbon intensity products, today announced the completion of 20 miles of biogas pipeline and approval for construction of the remaining biogas pipeline in Merced County, California.  Construction of the 39-mile main biogas pipeline is on schedule for completion in Q4 2022. “Issuance of the Phase Two Pipeline permit and construction of the main pipeline in Merced County is a very significant milestone for the Aemetis Biogas RNG project,” said Andy Foster, President of Aemetis Biogas, Inc. “California and Merced County recognize that the adoption of dairy biogas as a negative carbon intensity fuel to replace diesel in heavy trucks and buses is essential if we are to make strides to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. Aemetis continues to rapidly deploy the infrastructure necessary to connect our network of dairy digesters and increase the production of carbon negative dairy renewable natural gas.”

This project milestone allows the installation of biogas pipeline in Merced County for construction of a pipeline for a total of 39 miles from the Aemetis ethanol plant in Keyes, California to dairies in Stanislaus County and Merced counties. The pressurized pipeline conveys conditioned, pressurized biogas from dairies to the Company’s centralized gas cleanup facility and the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) interconnection system to inject renewable natural gas (RNG) into the gas utility pipeline. At the Keyes plant, the biogas is upgraded to negative carbon intensity RNG for use as a transportation fuel in cars, trucks, and buses. The RNG is either delivered into the PG&E utility pipeline located onsite at the Aemetis ethanol plant, dispensed to trucks at fueling stations across California or at the RNG fueling station being built at the Aemetis plant.

Previously, Aemetis announced that it received approval for the biogas pipeline from the Merced County Board of Supervisors for the Phase Two pipeline, as well as an Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (IS/MND) for the entire pipeline project, the key approval necessary to meet the permitting requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) prior to pipeline construction. The CEQA approval confirms that mitigation measures in the biogas project will avoid or mitigate any impacts on the environment. The Company completed the permitting for 20 miles of biogas pipeline in Stanislaus County in August 2021 to connect dairies to the Aemetis biogas cleanup facility at the ethanol facility. The initial four-mile Phase 1 pipeline project was completed and commissioned in the third quarter of 2020 in conjunction with the completion of the Company’s first two dairy digesters, and the 20 miles of Stanislaus County pipeline has now been completed.  Additional pipeline will be added to connect digesters to the main biogas pipeline.

Once complete, the Aemetis biogas digesters and clean-up facility will produce more than 1.65 million MMBtu of RNG each year. Aemetis received a negative -426 Carbon Intensity pathway for biogas from the company’s first two dairy digesters, which is currently being utilized as process energy at the ethanol facility. When built, the system will eliminate emissions from approximately 1 million cars per year and eliminate about 5 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year. The pipeline project and the $12 million biogas cleanup facility are funded in part by a $4.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission.


About Aemetis

Aemetis has a mission to transform renewable energy with below zero carbon intensity transportation fuels. Aemetis has launched the Carbon Zero production process to decarbonize the transportation sector using today’s infrastructure. Aemetis Carbon Zero products include zero carbon fuels that can “drop in” to be used in airplane, truck, and ship fleets. Aemetis low-carbon fuels have substantially reduced carbon intensity compared to standard petroleum fossil-based fuels across their lifecycle.

Headquartered in Cupertino, California, Aemetis is a renewable natural gas, renewable fuel and biochemicals company focused on the acquisition, development and commercialization of innovative technologies that replace petroleum-based products and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Founded in 2006, Aemetis has completed Phase 1 and is expanding a California biogas digester network and pipeline system to convert dairy waste gas into Renewable Natural Gas. Aemetis owns and operates a 65 million gallon per year ethanol production facility in California’s Central Valley near Modesto that supplies about 80 dairies with animal feed. Aemetis also owns and operates a 50 million gallon per year production facility on the East Coast of India producing high quality distilled biodiesel and refined glycerin for customers in India and Europe.  Aemetis is developing the Carbon Zero sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and renewable diesel fuel biorefineries in California to utilize distillers corn oil and other renewable oils to produce low carbon intensity renewable jet and diesel fuel using cellulosic hydrogen from waste orchard and forest wood, while pre-extracting cellulosic sugars from the waste wood to be processed into high value cellulosic ethanol at the Keyes plant. Aemetis holds a portfolio of patents and exclusive technology licenses to produce renewable fuels and biochemicals.

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This news release contains forward-looking statements, including statements regarding assumptions, projections, expectations, targets, intentions or beliefs about future events or other statements that are not historical facts. Forward-looking statements in this news release include, without limitation, statements relating to the development and construction of the biogas pipeline, biogas digesters, our compliance with governmental programs, and our ability to access markets and funding to execute our business plan.  Words or phrases such as “anticipates,” “may,” “will,” “should,” “believes,” “estimates,” “expects,” “intends,” “plans,” “predicts,” “projects,” “showing signs,” “targets,” “view,” “will likely result,” “will continue” or similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are based on current assumptions and predictions and are subject to numerous risks and uncertainties.  Actual results or events could differ materially from those set forth or implied by such forward-looking statements and related assumptions due to certain factors, including, without limitation, competition in the ethanol, biodiesel and other industries in which we operate, commodity market risks including those that may result from current weather conditions, financial market risks, customer adoption, counter-party risks, risks associated with changes to federal policy or regulation, and other risks detailed in our reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2021 and in our subsequent filings with the SEC.  We are not obligated, and do not intend, to update any of these forward-looking statements at any time unless an update is required by applicable securities laws.

Local ag waste prized as fuel source, carbon for storage

To the lingering question of what to do with woody ag waste and other forms of Central Valley biomass, carbon scientists and investors agree on an answer: gasify it, sell some of the byproduct as fuel and bury the leftover carbon deep underground. Doing so would produce a net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions while forestalling pollution from open burning and even preventing groundwater contamination if some of the waste involved is manure. What’s more, the whole process appears to be a moneymaker, thanks to a growing market for both hydrogen and carbon credits. At a symposium on carbon capture and storage Friday at Cal State Bakersfield, great hope was placed in the process, referred to during the inaugural meeting as BiCRS (pronounced “bikers”): bioenergy with carbon removal and storage. Two such projects have been proposed in Kern, but neither has taken more than early steps toward development. Expectations are that considerably more money will be invested as part of a wider push to capture and sequester carbon. Other means include removing it from smokestacks and pulling carbon dioxide straight out of the atmosphere.

Energy Program Chief Scientist Roger Aines at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told Friday’s audience BiCRS is a “clear winner” in combined economics and environmental benefit, as long as the biomass used is low-moisture and the carbon is not allowed to return to the atmosphere. If done right, he said, BiCRS results in an overall decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Aines dismissed the idea of merely burying biomass, as is sometimes done in local almond orchards, because he said it continues to emit methane. He said a better option is injecting it deep underground to keep it there permanently. He noted the process works with everything from almond shells to forest waste. Biomass used to be a greater producer of energy in the Central Valley than it is now. Utilities contracting for cleaner power found that other renewable sources of electricity beat the cost of most biomass plants. Plus, environmental justice groups have targeted them as significant producers of particulate air pollution. Gasification works differently. It does not combust but super-heats waste feedstock to break it down into gases like hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The process puts out much less air pollution.

If the process is used on manure, such as is produced in large quantities at local dairies, it avoids methane emissions and keeps nitrates out of local groundwater, which would reduce risks of cancer, fetal growth retardation and other negative health outcomes, Lawrence Livermore staff scientist Kim Mayfield noted at Friday’s symposium. Still, more research is needed to document the complete and complex carbon lifecycle of BiCRS, said Deputy Director Colin Murphy at the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy. He emphasized the concept has been greeted with some skepticism by California’s Spanish-speaking communities and others living in agricultural and industrial areas. His recommendation was for better engagement with such communities.

One project proposed in Kern would gasify local ag waste and turn it into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The latter byproduct would be stored permanently in concrete or injected into a depleted or nearly depleted oil or gas reservoir. Southern California-based Mote says it has begun preparations on a $100 million facility outside Bakersfield that would capture 150,000 metric tons of CO2 yearly starting as soon as 2024. The startup expects to sell hydrogen for use by heavy-duty trucks in the Central Valley. It would also cash in on federal tax credits, revenue from sales of carbon credits and state incentives. Speaking at Friday’s symposium, Mote co-founder and CTO Josh Stolaroff said the project’s economics allow it to gather biomass across a wider radius than conventional biomass power plants. BiCRS is also a relatively large job creator per dollar of investment, he said.

The other BiCRS project that has been disclosed publicly in Kern would work differently. It would produce methane for injection into a local natural gas pipeline for use as transportation fuel. CO2 from the process would be injected underground, while the carbon-rich byproduct biochar could be used in different ways, such as a soil amendment or water filtration or odor-absorber. Frontline Bioenergy LLC, the Iowa-based technology company behind the proposal, wants to build the plant in McFarland and employ about 50 local residents. It has estimated the plant would gasify about 300,000 tons per year of nut shells and other local ag waste and produce the natural gas equivalent of 22 million gallons of gasoline, plus 125 tons per day of biochar.

Biodiesel refinery celebrates expansion that makes it largest of its kind in Western U.S.

A clean-energy project two years and more than $40 million in the making got a proper christening Thursday as Denver-based Crimson Renewable Energy Holdings LLC celebrated an expansion that cements its position as the largest producer of ultra-low carbon biodiesel in the Western United States. The company’s 11-year-old biodiesel plant along Millux Road a half-hour south and west of Bakersfield can now process an extra 13.3 million gallons per year of biodiesel made primarily from recycled cooking oil, trap grease and rendered animal fats. Its total capacity is now close to 50 million gallons per year, or about 3,300 barrels daily. Crimson’s expansion, supported by the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and funded in part by a $9.4 million grant from the California Energy Commission, builds on Kern County’s profile as the state’s leading producer of renewable energy and biofuels. Not only can the 56-acre plant process more materials than before, but it can also refine a wider variety of feedstocks from across the West, such as brown grease. “You can think of this as a kind of specialized recycling facility,” said President and CEO Harry Simpson of plant operator Crimson Renewable Energy LP. He added that there is no other facility like it in the country.

Biodiesel is generally blended with petroleum fuels on a 20 percent basis to reduce emissions of fine particulates and greenhouse gases. It is primarily used to fuel tractor-trailers traveling through the valley. For properly equipped vehicles, it can be used 100 percent in place of conventional diesel fuel. On Thursday, the plant literally hummed with activity under towering cylindrical tanks and two massive structures of intertwined pipes, vents and valves. Men in hardhats kept dozens of visitors on strict safety protocols amid a mildly pungent odor. CEO Markus Dielacher at the Austrian-based company that helped design and build the project, BDI BioEnergy International, said a plant with similar capabilities opened in January in Hungary, and another is planned for Belgium. The only byproduct is glycerine, which he said can be used in industrial applications. State officials commended Simpson and his company for helping California make progress toward its 2035 goal of carbon neutrality.

Executive Director Richard Corey of the California Air Resources Board said about half the state’s greenhouse gas emissions come from petroleum. But achieving the state’s climate goals won’t be as easy as suddenly switching to electric vehicles, he said: Biodiesel will be an important part of the solution. “The fact of the matter is, you can’t electrify everything,” Corey said. “We’re going to be on liquid fuels for quite some time.” Crimson employs 72 people, together with one of its sister companies nearby, Delta Trading LP, which handles and stores petroleum and renewable fuels coming in by railroad.

30 million sq ft ‘carbon management’ business park coming to Kern thanks to federal energy grant

One of the great challenges of our time is what to do with all that carbon in the atmosphere. On Tuesday, Kern County stepped forward with the seed of an answer. Or, multiple answers, as the case may be. One answer is to put it deep in the ground. Carbon sequestration, it is called. But there may be more solutions, and on Tuesday Kern County officials announced an innovative and potentially game-changing approach to discovering them. An approach that might be an example not just to California but the world.

Kern County, with help from the U.S. Department of Energy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,  and other partners, will develop a 30 million square foot, 4,000 acre business park dedicated to dealing with carbon  – a natural byproduct of fossil fuels and other emissions and the central culprit in climate change. And powering the whole thing – a 30,000 acre solar farm on land no longer viable for agriculture. The Clean Energy and Carbon Management Business Park in west Kern – still in the very early stages of development – is intended to be the home of private sector investment in new carbon management technologies, from Direct Air Capture to Green Hydrogen. All five county supervisors along with three key county administrators gathered Tuesday to make the announcement. Supervisor Zack Scrivner’s district includes much of the county’s oil fields. “This process will include a stakeholder process with our partners and community,” he said, “in understanding what types of industries and jobs could be a reality in just the next few years.”

Renewable energy brought $60 billion of private and public investment to the county over the last 15 years and the hope is that the business park can do it again. If any of this sounds vague, that’s because much of it is. The purpose of the research grant is to help Kern and its several partners – among them Cal State Bakersfield, the Kern Community College District,  and the City of Bakersfield – in the development of clean carbon management  industries. Kern County wasn’t the only local government making announcements about our energy future. The City of Bakersfield and the Kern Community College District made a separate announcement Tuesday afternoon about a Department of Energy research grant of their own – part of the same Local Energy Action Program – designed to help communities create plans that reduce local air pollution, increase energy resilience, and lower both utility costs and energy burdens. Bakersfield and Kern County are two of the inaugural 22 jurisdictions around the country receiving these DOE grants, funded by the Biden administration’s $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill.

Merced dairy turning cow manure into renewable energy

A Merced dairy is converting cow waste into renewable energy. Eileen Martinho works for Maas Energy Works and tells us how it’s done. “This is a dairy digester cluster project, where each dairy is a digester on their facility,” she said. “Then, they are sending methane gas from their digester, which is the purpose of the digester, is to collect the methane gas off of the manure.” After the manure is collected from thousands of cows, a special contraption called a Digester is used to help create renewable natural gas or “biomethane” before it’s sent back through a pipeline to one central location.

Local dairy producer Alex Dejager was hesitant when he was first approached about this project, not knowing the benefits or what it would turn into almost two years later. “Maas Energy came to us, basically knocked on our door and said we have a big dream of doing a project out here to capture emissions from 15,16 different dairies in one little area, pipeline it all to on essential area and basically move that gas to PG&E, and we kind of all laughed at him,” he said.

Approximately 55 percent of California’s methane emissions come from dairies and livestock and after learning more about the good this project can bring, Dejager quickly became involved and he believes more California farmers will have to do the same to stay financially sustainable. “If you think of one milking cow, it equates to taking one car off the road each year,” Martinho said. Although this natural gas will be cleaner, the cost of energy is not expected to decrease anytime soon. “In general, we are trying to lower the cost of the rates for our customers, RNG and this type of project is going to make it more efficient for us to develop cleaner fuels in the future,” says Janisse Quinonez with PG&E.

Stanislaus County will pilot plan to put solar panels over irrigation canals

A first-in-the-nation project to build solar panels over irrigation canals will get underway later this year in Stanislaus County. Turlock Irrigation District expects to break ground in the fall on building solar panels at multiple locations within the 250 miles of its canals. The agency expects to produce renewable energy and reduce water evaporation. Called Project Nexus, the plan is a concept developed by UC Merced and funded with $20 million by the California Department of Water Resources. According to the UC study, if the state’s 4,000 miles of canals were covered, it could result in a savings of 63 billion gallons of water annually and generate 13 gigawatts of solar power, or one-sixth of the state’s current installed capacity.

Josh Weimer with Turlock Irrigation says Project Nexus will put that theory to the test. “[It will] provide a model to not only California but the rest of the country to utilize our existing water infrastructure to produce renewable energy and potentially save water,” Weimer said. Weimer says the panels will be placed at three different locations. The pilot project will put to the test the feasibility of covering the state’s 4,000 miles of canals with solar panels. “We are excited of the potential,” he said. “The potential to save water from evaporation and also to minimize the amount of maintenance that we have to do in our system to ensure reliability of irrigation deliveries to our growers.”  The project should be completed by 2024.

Renewable fuel production heats up in Kern

Renewable fuels production is becoming a bigger focus in Kern lately as investors launch projects that reinforce the county’s prominence in biofuels and advanced facilities are proposed for deriving bioenergy from local waste streams. Final preparations for a new renewable diesel project at the former Big West refinery on Rosedale Highway have roughly coincided with the recent expansion of a plant southwest of Bakersfield that leads the state in production of biodiesel. Plans are being made, meanwhile, for recycling centers that would turn household and other organic waste into biomethane, among other projects under consideration. Cooperation taking place locally aims to build on Kern’s momentum. Enthusiasm is running high as local initiatives stand to receive state money. But becoming a true center of excellence may depend on factors beyond local control.

Harry Simpson, CEO of Crimson Renewable Energy Holdings, recently finished a 50-percent increase in production capacity at the company’s 88-acre biodiesel refinery off Millux Road near Interstate 5. As a local operator, he was encouraged by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal last week for an $83 million energy innovation center at Cal State Bakersfield. Hopefully a commercially viable idea will emerge from the new center, he said. But he noted there’s no guarantee any such innovation would be built locally. “The question is, will this stuff get built in Kern County as opposed to somewhere else?” he said. “It would be cheaper and easier for me to do (business) in Texas or Louisiana than California.”

That possibility isn’t stopping local energy leaders from pursuing a collaboration geared toward capitalizing on Kern’s existing strengths in renewable fuels. One of the industry players participating in the county’s B3K Prosperity economic development initiative is Jennifer Haley, president and CEO of Kern Oil & Refining Co., a 155-employee plant that makes renewable diesel and other fuels at its 26,000-barrel-per-day refinery near Lamont. As her own company looks for strategic partners to do more waste-to-fuel processing and production of ultra-low-carbon intensity fuels, she sees the B3K collaboration as the best way to put local talent and other resources to use creating good local jobs. “It’s how do we pivot or how do we evolve toward managing that carbon intensity and meeting our climate goals?” Although it’s hard to say what products and technology will finally help California achieve its goals, she added, “I think we can define what the future looks like and be a part of the solution.”

California imports most of its biodiesel, just as it imports most of its crude oil. But to the degree that turning California’s growing stream of organic waste into energy is a local affair, at least, Kern is expected to attract investment in the months and years ahead, as the state requires municipalities to divert food scraps and other organic waste away from landfills to fight climate change. J.D. Gessin, operations CEO at West Coast Biofuels, is working to convert an idle produce plant in McFarland into a biodiesel and renewable fuels plant serving the commercial transportation industry. It is expected to employ more than 20 people turning waste oils such as grease and rendered fats into fuel for agriculture, heavy machinery, aviation, tractor-trailers and, eventually, maritime transport.

Separately, the company hopes to deploy a series of modular bioenergy refineries in Kern and as far north as Stockton to gasify organic waste that otherwise heads to a landfill. Each facility would employ three dozen or more people and process 20 to 30 metric tons of waste. Gessin said the company expects to eventually produce not only conventional liquid renewable fuels for decarbonizing commercial transport in California but also renewable electricity, biomethane and hydrogen. Local dairies equipped with large manure digesters also produce biomethane for use in Central Valley transportation. The facilities have ramped up quickly in recent years with state subsidies for capturing and harnessing a potent greenhouse gas methane that otherwise vents to the atmosphere.

In 2020, 589 million gallons of renewable diesel accounted for only about one-sixth of California’s total use of diesel fuel, according to the California Energy Commission. Renewables’ share is expected to jump 40 percent just with the project Global Clean Energy Holdings Inc. is preparing to begin on a portion of the former Big West property. Expected to employ more than 100 workers, the plant is planned to produce 15,000 barrels per day, or 230 million gallons per year. Like other local plants, its feedstock will include used cooking oil and rendered fats, though eventually it is expected to incorporate oil from a crop called camelina. Crimson’s operation on Millux, now responsible for 36 million gallons of biodiesel per year, has been the state’s largest producer of the fuel for almost 10 years. It brings in used cooking oil from as far north as Seattle, but still produces less than California biodiesel sources like Singapore. Still greater potential may lie in biomethane and hydrogen produced from organic waste.

Executive director Julia Levin of the Bioenergy Association of California said the state’s capacity for producing biomethane is pegged at the equivalent of 4 billion gallons per year of diesel — a third more than California’s demand for that fuel — using only waste from landfills, wastewater treatment, animal manure, fats, grease and biomass such as ag trimmings. She noted hydrogen could also be created from such sources. The California Public Utilities Commission has helped by requiring natural gas utilities to incorporate biomethane into the fuel it delivers residential customers for use in heating, cooking and drying. Levin said it won’t be long before more jets, ships and heavy-duty trucks are running on the fuel, given that some forms of transportation won’t easily adopt batteries. There are signs as well that state government is preparing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in biomethane, hydrogen and other renewable fuels. She predicted growing demand as California works to replace the feedstock fueling its natural gas power plants and looks for different forms of long-term energy storage. “I don’t think we’re going to see market saturation for a long time,” Levin said. “The problem is opposite right now. We need to ramp up production much more quickly.”

Work starts on 100-megawatt solar project in eastern Kern

Construction has begun five miles west of Rosamond on a 100-megawatt photovoltaic solar project called Rabbitbrush Solar, which will come with a battery component storing 50 megawatt-hours of electricity. As the latest large-scale renewable energy project in eastern Kern, the Canadian-backed development is expected to create 300 union construction jobs at its peak. After that it is expected to generate enough power to run 40,000 homes, essentially removing 48,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year — the equivalent of taking 10,500 gasoline-powered cars off the road. Two companies have signed 15-year agreements to buy energy from the project: Central Coast Community Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy. Both are community-choice aggregation providers that sell clean energy to individual customers.

Developer Leeward Renewable Energy said it chose to build in Kern because of the area’s consistent sunlight and flat land. It also credited the availability of electrical transmission lines and other infrastructure nearby, as well as the area’s experienced workforce and the county’s leadership in renewable-energy development. Work began in October at the site near Willow Springs. Construction is scheduled to finish in July and operations are set to begin in August.

Kern’s top planner and lead energy permitting official, Lorelei Oviatt, on Friday described Rabbitbrush as an infill project in an area that’s already home to extensive solar and wind development. She said the county conducted an environmental review of the project and found nothing particularly controversial about it. At least half the jobs generated during construction must be local hires, Oviatt said. She noted the project makes good sense in that battery storage works best near the source of power generation. She also made reference to a simmering conflict between Kern and state government over energy permitting. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has clamped down on oil permitting — a significant source of local jobs and government revenue — even as Sacramento has extended an exemption that denies Kern millions of dollars per year in property tax receipts. “Once again this (Rabbitbrush project) is Kern County’s contribution to California, and we believe that we have a solution for local revenues for right now, but we still continue to advocate for an adjustment to the solar tax exclusion,” Oviatt said.

Leeward reports having 21 renewable energy facilities in nine states with generation capacity totaling about 2,000 megawatts. It says it is working on more than 100 new wind, solar and energy storage projects offering 17 gigawatts of power. Leeward is owned by Canadian pension company OMERS Infrastructure, which reports having $114 billion in net assets.