The last blogs posted, took a lot of effort. I am going to lighten the load a bit, making some lighter comments about current events.
I lived in Sacramento from 2009 to 2011. I was trying to develop a solar thermal system with storage, and thought that being in California, where there is more interest in renewable energies, have more solar irradiation (compared to the East Cost) and higher tariffs would help. I was also close to PIER (Public Interest Energy Research) from the California Energy Commission and to SMUD which was the only utility on track to meet the 20% mandate for renewable energy in their generation mix by 2010.
I put an office in VentureLab, where SARTA’s headquarters (Sacramento Area Region Technology Alliance) was. It was a great experience. I was introduced to many movers in the area, got plenty of advice and attended many mixers, conferences and events. In late 2010, Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, launched a soul searching movement called Greenwise, to seek ways to launch Sacramento’s area, as the capital of green energy and invited collaboration from anyone interested.
I got excited and attended all six meetings, participating in one of the subgroups for energy. I wrote a long note, discussing the reasons behind the success of Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle in Raleigh, and stated the need of focusing on the goal and the steps needed to implement it, from universities participation to setting up land to attract green companies, setting a budget for the effort and prioritizing the activities to those ones that would signal to the world, that Sacramento intended to become the hub of research, manufacturing and friendliness to green companies.
The process was a lesson of democracy at work. More than 300 persons participated in some of the meetings, which started with a motivational talk by well known speakers (Thomas Friedman, Robert Kennedy, Gavin Wilson, etc.), followed by a progress report from all groups and concluded with working sessions for the different groups, which also met at other times. No suggestion was discarded.
At the end, there were more than 100 suggestions (see Action Plan). Some were grandiose – attract $1 billion investment; create 14,000 green energy jobs or plant 3 million trees; others were reasonable – produce 1 million gallons of bio-diesel and others were good ideas, like retrofit all buildings or streamline permits or create walking distance neighborhoods.
I believe that it was a good effort to include all suggestions and set possible goals. Without setting goals, it is difficult to reach them. However, setting too many goals, without allocating resources and naming persons to be directly responsible for reaching said goals, is wishful thinking. A clear goal, like requiring that all taxis servicing the airport had to be PEV, or at least hybrids, would send a signal to all arriving travelers that Sacramento was serious about clean energy. I doubt that retrofitting old buildings will enhance the image of the city as the green capital of the world. Planting 3 million trees sounds promising, but does not produce energy unless we are going way back to burning wood, and although trees might capture some CO2, it is a long, long shot.
The exercise illustrates the dilemma of renewable energy. There are many people really concerned about sustainability, and there are hundreds of ways to skin this cat. Many ideas are positive and will contribute somewhat to ameliorate the problem or improve sustainability, but diluted good intentions are insufficient. It requires sharp focus and total concentration, to achieve something meaningful.
The Bay Area has Silicon Valley, Los Angeles has Hollywood, San Diego has biotech. Sacramento might want to become the green capital. They had a concerted effort, led by the Mayor of Sacramento, with a limited budget but plenty of heart, that encouraged hundreds of persons to join and contribute with ideas and time, supported by the UC Davis, Sacramento State University, the local utilities, and published a good report showing a path.
However, the blue print is incomplete, has many good ideas but lacks focus and there is no budget or allocation of responsibilities. I am afraid that it is quite likely that they will fail on achieving the goal of making the Sacramento’s area the green capital of the world, or the USA or even California.
There is strong competition. Many places would like to attract become the green capital, mainly because of the economic development it would provide to the area. States are capable of attracting companies to the states by providing state tax holidays. Cities or municipal taxes are insufficient to tip much the balance. California is not known as a state that goes out of its way to attract businesses, and many complain that as a matter of fact it is moving in the other direction, providing obstacles to business to move there. Within the state of California, there will be a long and nasty political battle among many cities or regions to have the state incentivize one. It is unlikely that some state incentives would be given to Sacramento.
I do not think that they were naïve. But the reality is that in the midst of a contracted economy, with constrained budgets for education or other salaries, there was not a lot of money to go by, and rather than postponing the exercise, they wanted to inspire others to take the lead and start doing productive work. I am positive that SMUD, Davis, SacState will pick up some balls now and then, along their existing mandates, but their efforts will be also be limited to their budgets and mandates.
In a way, it mirrors how the society perceives renewable energies, sustainability and climate change. Most people are in favor of using renewable energies, protect the earth and live in a sustainable way and are slightly concerned about climate change. They are prepared to embrace renewable energies provided it does not cost more than fossil fuel energies. They are prepared to support sustainability, provided that there are not too many regulations or it does not increase operating expenses, and they will support policies aimed at curbing climate change, provided the Chinese and the rest of the world also stops buying cars or burning fossil fuels first. Sacramento wants to become the green energy Mecca, at no cost, without putting forth new regulations.
Thanks to the efforts of many staff members of diverse associations and government entities and legislators, California is the most advanced state regarding mandates for renewable portfolio standards (RPS), requiring all public utilities and others to generate more than 33% of their electricity from renewable sources. California pushed for catalytic converters in cars, required (but then dropped) that 2% of the cars sold in the state were zero emission vehicles; installed in the 80s the largest wind farm in the country and had the largest solar thermal installation in the Mojave Desert. California is home to hundreds of new companies seeking alternative sources of energy, with a great concentration of them around Silicon Valley, because there is where the money is and students and professors of Bay Area universities come up with great ideas.
You cannot become an Olympic athlete overnight. You cannot just wish it. You have to start training, competing, dieting, and then more training, and more training and more training. You cannot become the green capital of the world just by stating it. You have to attract industries, professors, suppliers, entrepreneurs, which mean that you have to offer more incentives than others, until you develop some critical mass, which by itself attracts others. It is a long process but requires planting the proper seeds. I wish them luck.