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Monday, Aug 8, 2022
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Valley Energy Projects Battle Bureaucracy

California boasts about becoming a green energy power player, but many of the projects that come up for regulatory review and approval fail to get the green light. The state’s regulations and process for approving green energy projects are so complex and laborious that they are stalling Valley area projects that could be saving companies and residents money while offering energy solutions that are friendly to the local environment. Energy experts say that the state’s legislation and permitting simply cannot keep up with new technologies being introduced in the market. Camarillo-based Houweling’s Tomatoes is one such case. The 125-acre greenhouse is waiting to clear regulatory hurdles so it can power up its $17 million cogeneration plant, which has been in the planning stages for three years and should have been operational last month. (See Page One for more on this story.) The plant, the first of its kind in the U.S., was built to power the agriculture facility and provide Southern California Edison (SCE) with enough electricity to power thousands of homes. For now, the grower is waiting for the state’s OK to flip a switch. Once the heat and energy system is turned on, it can begin operating at near 100 percent efficiency — and hopefully sell energy to SCE which will provide the service to residents. One-third of California’s energy must be renewable by 2020. Houweling’s greenhouse project is not considered “renewable” because it uses natural gas, but it was nevertheless designed to be clean and sustainable. The process for energy projects is a winding one that varies depending on size and scope. A number of parties may be involved, including the California Energy Commission, the California Independent Service Operator (CAISO), a semi-governmental agency, other state and local government divisions and private utility companies. The requirements vary on a case by case basis which leads to confusion and delay. Energy projects, by their very nature, are ambitious. The bigger the project, the more complex the approvals and the greater the risk that project will get stuck on the drawing board. Even projects that do get approved aren’t guaranteed to get off the ground. Plans for a state-of-the-art hybrid power plant in Palmdale are stalled — and that project has succeeded in clearing state approvals. The city had hoped to have the plant running by mid-2012, but to date it has invested at least $30 million and has yet to secure a developer. The $950 million hybrid power plant, if it’s ever built, will be designed to use natural gas, steam technology and a solar thermal system to generate 570 mega-watts of power, roughly enough to power about 500,000 homes for a year. Impressive right? One has to hand it to the companies and communities that try to build clean energy projects. It isn’t easy, and the state could be a much better partner if it got up to speed on the latest technologies and streamlined its processes. Surely, as the state’s deadline for renewables nears, regulators will have to make some changes.

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