San Joaquin plan would equip all churches with solar power to transition diocese off fossil fuels

San Joaquin has a goal: to become The Episcopal Church’s first solar-powered diocese.

The Diocese of San Joaquin, located in California’s Central Valley and Sierra Nevada, has 22 faith communities and an abundance of sun. This year, it put in motion plans to bring solar panels to all or nearly all of those communities. By the end of 2020, Bishop David Rice hopes those solar panels will be installed and generating enough power to offset the energy usage of all Episcopal properties in the diocese.

“There’s a real yearning in the Central Valley and the High Sierras to ensure that our part of The Episcopal Church is giving real care to creation, and we see this solar project as an extension of that,” Rice said in an interview with Episcopal News Service.

By providing space on their roofs or lots for solar power generation, the churches also may save a bit on their energy costs, but more importantly, the project is structured so that third-party developers will cover the expense of transitioning the diocese off fossil fuels. Rice also hopes that San Joaquin’s example will lead other dioceses to pursue similar projects tailored to their local environments.

Few environments in the United States are as full of sunshine as the Diocese of San Joaquin. Cloudy days are the exception in the region. Fresno, the largest city in the diocese, boasts an average of 267 days a year with clear or partly cloudy skies, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, which ranks Fresno as the country’s seventh sunniest major city. Sunshine is particularly abundant in the summer months.

Given those conditions, solar power already is a significant part of the region’s landscape, with buildings from churches to schools to warehouses topped with panels. Cal Harling, a renewable energy consultant hired by the diocese, said San Joaquin’s plans are more ambitious than most.

Other churches have invested in solar, Harling said, “but I’m not sure they’ve done it on the level that San Joaquin is thinking about. It’s an approach that, quite frankly, large commercial companies use.”

Think of a retail chain like Walmart or Home Depot deciding to outfit all its warehouses with solar panels, he said. Harling is approaching the diocese’s needs in a similar way, negotiating financing with the diocese’s solar power partners for a regional project, as opposed to having individual congregations make their own panel purchases.

Harling explained to ENS that it is based on the general principle that all partners in the development bring something to the table: The diocese provides a location for the solar panels. A developer and financer commit to funding and installing the panels. A utility agrees to acquire the energy generated by the project for a certain rate over a period of time, usually 20 to 30 years, since solar panels begin degrading as they age beyond that, Harling said.

“Everybody gains value out of it,” he said.

One of the catalysts for San Joaquin’s project was The Episcopal Church’s Creation Care Pledge, in which more than 1,000 people during Advent and Easter committed to taking actions to improve or preserve the environment. While that call to action was “stirring the hearts” in Rice’s diocese, he and others there saw solar power as one way to do more.

“This seemed to be a faithful, natural next step for us,” Rice said. “There’s a lot of sun here.”

Harling, who knew the diocese’s chancellor, began discussing solar options with diocesan leaders early this year and was asked to draft a proposal outlining his approach to financing a diocese-wide solar project. He presented his proposal to the Diocesan Council in June and received approval to conduct a feasibility study at each of the diocese’s locations.

Each location is unique. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bakersfield – only 93 cloudy days a year – already has solar panels on-site. The panels were installed on a shade structure built last year over part of the congregation’s parking lot.

“It’s a great use of the space,” said the Rev. Luis Rodriguez, priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s. “People are excited about it. I think there’s a sense of responsibility, global responsibility, and I think that feels good to people.”

Other congregations may only have limited space in which to install new panels, but even smaller components will generate renewable power. Taken as a whole, Harling determined that installing solar panels across diocesan properties could generate close to a million kilowatt hours of power in a year, the equivalent of a 600-kilowatt power system, Harling said.

With that much power, it’s possible that the diocese will reduce its reliance on fossil fuels to zero, he said.

Rice is pushing the diocese to move fast in implementing the project. The diocese’s Episcopal Conference Center near Yosemite National Park in Oakhurst is a large property with significant room for solar panel coverage. St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Fresno is another prime site for solar installation.

“There’s a sense of urgency for us to get on this,” Rice said, adding that clean energy is not just a political issue for the church. “This is about faith for us.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

 

San Joaquin plan would equip all churches with solar power to transition diocese off fossil fuels, by David Paulsen, Episcopal News Service, September 10, 2019.

Last electric bus in Transit fleet makes its way to Porterville

GreenPower Motor Company Inc.  announced on Monday, it has delivered the 10th and final EV350 electric bus to Porterville Transit.

As previously announced, Porterville and GreenPower received grant funding of $9.5 million through the California Air Resources Board’s (“CARB”) Zero Emissions Bus and Truck Pilot Program. This grant funding covered the purchase of 10 EV350 40-foot low floor battery-electric transit buses featuring an industry-leading range of 250 miles on a single charge.

“Porterville Transit is well on its way to deploying the nation’s first 100 percent electric fleet,” said Brendan Riley, President of GreenPower. “This city – located in the heart of Central California – is showing other rural areas across the country that electric buses are not only for urban city centers but can be successfully used almost anywhere. We’re very proud to have our EV350’s showcased in this manner.”

“The City of Porterville is pleased to partner with GreenPower Motor Company, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, and the California Air Resources Board to offer a clean, zero-emission, 100 percent battery-electric mobility to the residents of our community,” Porterville Department of Transportation Director Richard Tree said. “Theses electric transit buses will operate daily on all nine routes of the Porterville Transit system and will showcase the practicality and economic viability of wide-spread adoption of zero-emission heavy-duty transit buses. These new buses have performed extremely well, delivering industry-leading range, and have received high praises from our passengers.”

GreenPower is also assisting Porterville with the installation of charging infrastructure and upon the anticipated completion this fall, Porterville will have replaced its legacy CNG bus fleet and fueling infrastructure.

“The City has also partnered with GreenPower to showcase some of the most sophisticated charging stations in the nation,” Tree said. “Once the charging station infrastructure has been completed, we expect to be able to charge our entire fleet in less than three hours, utilizing smart charging capabilities, to lower our operational costs. GreenPower has been a strategic partner in the development of an intelligent approach to the electric vehicle management. 

            “The City is extremely fortune to have a local manufacturer that has worked closely, from the very beginning, to ensure our success.”

The EV350 is a purpose-built forty-foot zero emissions low floor transit bus that can meet the operational demands of any end user with unparalleled range and reliability. The EV350 can be configured to seat up to 39 passengers, including two wheelchair passengers, and features 432kWh of batteries. The EV350 is eligible for a base voucher of $150,000 from the California HVIP program and an additional voucher of $15,000 when the vehicle is operated within communities that qualify.

In addition to converting its entire fleet of buses to electric, Porterville is working to build a fleet of other electric vehicles that can be used in the future for on-demand ride sharing services. Porterville’s Transit system is the first of its kind not only in the Central Valley or California, but it’s the first in the nation. The Porterville Transit system is considered to be ahead of the game when compared to bigger cities.

 

Last electric bus in Transit fleet makes its way to Porterville, The Porterville Recorder Staff, The Porterville Recorder, September 10, 2019.

Waiting list grows for electric cars in the Valley

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Electric cars are a rare, but sought-out sight at Honda North in Clovis.

“We’re talking about one car a month coming into our dealership, and we’re one of the only dealerships that sell the electric-only Clarity electric vehicle,” said Joel Carlson, General Sales Manager of Honda North.

The dealership only has one hybrid Honda Clarity on the lot, but it’s not for sale. Carlson says they use it to give test drives to those interested in one. Honda North’s waitlist for a Clarity is already 30 people long.

“On a main charge you can get 90 miles, but depending on your driving habits, the range is 70-95 miles,” Carlson said.

Incentives are encouraging Californians to go green with local and state rebates and tax credits.

At Honda, a Clarity lease is $199 a month with a down payment of about $1,500.

Honda isn’t the only place selling electric vehicles; in fact, most brands now have at least one. That includes Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Fiat, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Nissan, Porsche, Smart, Tesla, and Volkswagen.

Over at Hedrick’s Chevrolet, the Chevy Bolt is on display.

“We sell a few of them because we ,have people that are concerned about the environment. With zero pollution, it has a niche market,” said Brett Hedrick, co-owner of Hedrick’s Chevrolet.

The Bolt can go 240 miles on one charge.

Hedrick says the incentives are helping drive sales.

“Most Bolt’s run in the $30,000s to $40,000s and you have about $10,000, depends on what you qualify for, in government rebates,” Hedrick said.

Air quality officials say people can take advantage of the “Drive Clean in the San Joaquin” rebate program, where they can get $3,000 back. The state has a clean program which gives an additional $2,500 back.

“A great way to do that is to go electric because you have no emissions to add to the Valley’s polluted air,” said Anthony Presto with Valley Air District.

Air officials say more charging stations are being set up to help drivers get to their destinations.

In addition to the car rebates, the Valley Air District also offers incentives to businesses and agencies. They’ll give a $5,000 grant to put in a charging station.

 

Waiting list grows for electric cars in the Valley, by Amanda Venegas, ABC 30, September 4, 2019.

Want to save money on your power bill? Fresno councilmember wants to go around PG&E

CPX Editor’s Note: A statistical error was made in this article. While Community Choice agencies in California offer competitive rates, a 20% discount rate is an overestimation.

 

Video from The Fresno Bee
Fresno Councilmember Luis Chavez said he’s spearheading an effort to give residents a potentially cheaper energy provider than Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Chavez said Fresno residents could save an average of 20% on their monthly bills if they can buy their energy through what’s called a “community choice agency.” There are 19 of them in the state.

Chavez said he thinks Fresno would have an appetite for a new option especially following the controversies PG&E has seen in recent years.

The company is coming off several years of major disasters including the Camp Fire in Paradise last year and other major fires in recent years across the state. Then there was the fatal San Bruno PG&E explosion in 2010.

PG&E this month brought its listening tour to Fresno ahead of an effort by the company to raise rates for consumers throughout the state next year to help pay for wildfire risk management and insurance.

“Right now you have a situation where a private company that answers to shareholders can raise rates because of mismanagement,” Chavez said.

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Solar is coming to all new California homes. How many in Fresno already get power from sun?

More than 1 million California homes are already soaking up sunshine with solar panels to generate electricity. Next year, that number will surge as new building standards take effect requiring all new homes permitted after Jan. 1 to have solar photovoltaic systems.

In Fresno, which already has the third-highest number of homes in California with rooftop solar panels, the number continues to grow even before the new California Energy Commission standards take full effect. Through the first six months of 2019, the city issued permits for more than 1,640 residential solar systems as additions or alterations to existing homes. That doesn’t count solar panels that home builders or developers are already offering as a feature on new homes.

As of June 30, more than 23,300 Fresno homes had solar systems in operation under the state’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) program. That’s third behind only San Diego and Bakersfield among California cities, according to data from Go Solar California. The total electrical output capacity of Fresno’s residential solar panel systems amounted to almost 148,700 kilowatts of direct current (DC) power. That’s about 144,000 kilowatts of alternating current or AC electricity after it’s converted from DC.

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Community Choice Energy Factfinding Tour

Fresno Policymakers Visit Operational Agencies

On August 7 and 8, three representatives from the Fresno City Council traveled to Alameda and Sonoma counties for a tour of the operational Community Choice agencies (CCAs) in those counties, East Bay Community Energy, and Sonoma Clean Power.

Representatives included Luis Chavez, President of the Fresno City Council, Dolores Barajas, Chief of Staff to Councilmember Miguel Arias, and Aida Macedo, Chief of Staff to Councilmember Nelson Esparza.

The tour included visits with governing board members and staff, visits to commercial customers of the CCAs, and a visit to a solar array that is part of the power mix of Sonoma Clean Power. Ah, and once in Sonoma County, a bit of wine tasting at the vineyard of a happy CCA customer.

Visiting East Bay Community Energy. From L-to-R: Jessie Denver, Luis Chavez, Annie Henderson, Alex DiGiorgio, Nick Chaset, Taj Ait-Laoussine, Deidre Sanders, Aida Macedo, Dolores Barajas

“Meeting with the Governing Board members and staff in their own offices to hear directly from them about what it takes to run a Community Choice agency and about the programs they offer their communities, really helped me gain a better understanding of how a CCA might be good for Fresno,” stated Fresno Council President Luis Chavez. He added, “I also discovered a great tiramisu at an Italian restaurant in Santa Rosa!”

Earlier this year, the Fresno City Council held a workshop on Community Choice Energy which led more recently to the City allocating funds to secure a Community Choice technical study. The purpose of the tour was to allow the councilmembers to gain a fuller understanding of what Community Choice Aggregation is all about by actually walking into their offices and meeting with their leadership and staff.

“Thank you for organizing such a great and informative trip for us. I enjoyed meeting all of you and look forward to our partnership,” stated Aida Macedo of Councilmember Esparza’s office. She added that “the tour really opened my eyes to the intentional and important work that Community Choice Energy agencies are doing for communities, government, and the environment.”

Tour organizers felt it was a success and may arrange another tour in the future, so if you are a local government elected official interested in learning more about Community Choice, let us know!

One final note… news, information, and resources specifically about the prospects for Community Choice Energy in the San Joaquin Valley can be found on our dedicated webpage for that info.

Solar Power’s Benefits Increasingly Recognized by California Farmers

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), America’s solar industry continues to expand at a record pace. California leads the way, with more than 25 GW of installed capacity. According to the SEIA, “the cost to install solar has dropped by more than 70-percent in the past decade.”

As the price of solar component declines, more California farmers are looking to solar energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) notes that solar costs continue to decrease for both “standalone photovoltaics and PV-plus-storage.” NREL graphs illustrate dramatic year-over-year cost reductions in solar equipment.

California farmers take advantage of these lower costs by embarking on various renewable energy projects. Some invest in large-scale solar installations. Others commit to the use of solar-powered irrigation systems.

Overview: Solar Energy and California Agriculture

A July 2019 article in the Los Angeles Times offers a detailed look at solar technology and California agriculture. The article profiles a Fresno-based grower of oranges and almonds that devoted 160 acres of unused land to a 20 MW solar project. Another 100 MW solar project will follow in the near future. Solar projects like these will help the state meet ambitious renewable energy goals. In 2018, the state set a 100-percent clean energy goal for 2045.

California agriculture and solar development are a good match due to the amount of land with poor soil and/or inadequate access to water. At the height of California’s drought, NASA, in collaboration with the USDA, estimated that farmers in the Central Valley left 1.03 million acres idle throughout 2015.

One report estimates that the San Joaquin Valley alone has almost a half-million acres of farmland that may be more suitable for renewable energy development than agriculture. Solar development is often easier on these lands than it is on ecologically sensitive inland deserts. In some areas, bighorn sheep roam the land as golden eagles soar above.

Many California growers oversee energy-intensive operations that benefit from on-site energy production. For example, Fruit Growers News profiled a grower who required more than $200,000 worth of electricity every year. Their operations include activities like hauling, shelling and processing almonds. The payback period for the grower’s solar installation was just six years.

Solar Applications in California Irrigation

Irrigation is a big deal in California agriculture. It accounts for approximately 80 percent of all water used by the state’s homes and businesses. Every advancement has a positive ripple effect across the economy. This includes the innovative technology driving solar-powered irrigation.

From 2014 to 2019, the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) funded irrigation system improvements. The program saved water and reduced GHG emissions. Initially, the program was a response to the state’s extreme drought conditions prevalent at the time. Altogether, it funded more than 600 projects, many of them solar. Together, these deployments will deliver annual water saving equivalent to 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The projects also yielded an annual reduction of 75,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, an amount emitted by 16,000 cars.

Growers are prime beneficiaries of solar-assisted irrigation. California is the nation’s leading producer of fruits, nuts and berries. According to Fruit Growers News, 2017 California’s revenue from all crops totaled $33.4 billion. Of that, fruits, nuts and berries brought in $19.7 billion.

Drip irrigation is already popular in areas with high temperatures and scarce water supplies. California’s record drought drove interest in drip irrigation. It eliminates much of the evaporation that occurs with sprinkler systems. It uses a precise mix of pipes, valves and hoses to deliver water right to a plant’s roots. This saves water and reduces fertilizer loss.

The California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN) highlights various solar-powered irrigation opportunities:

  • Improved irrigation scheduling using soil, plant or weather-based sensors
  • Replace or convert fossil fuel pumps
  • Upgrade or convert to drip irrigation, micro-irrigation and low-pressure irrigation systems

Today, solar-powered pumps are increasingly used to supply water. And, solar-powered sensors are increasingly used to deliver it with less fuss and more precision than ever.

Solar-powered Sensors

In May, 2019, Forbes profiled a California startup focused on soil moisture monitoring. It manufactures solar-powered irrigation sensors fitted with soil probes. In the past, growers spent many hours driving from field to field to monitor irrigation needs. Now, it’s possible to do it from one’s computer or smartphone.

Decreased solar costs, innovative sensor technology and cloud-based communications are a perfect trifecta. The new technology is ideal for growers who want to take their irrigation systems to the next level.

In one case study involving a 40-acre test plot, a California vegetable grower deployed the sensors. Water use declined six percent. Also, greenhouse gas emissions declined five percent. The grower also saved fuel ordinarily required to pump water and power trucks used to check the fields.

The zero-maintenance, solar-powered sensors and soil probes are strategically placed at intervals across fields. There, they gather soil moisture data. The sensors’ ultra-low-power long-range radio (LoRa) signals use very little power. There’s a single small solar cell on each sensor. It powers the system, even in low light.

Data is securely beamed to a communications hub via a secure LTE wireless network. A cloud-based application automatically analyzes the information. The grower controls irrigation timing based on the information received. By stabilizing the moisture content of the soil, sensor-based irrigation systems can also increase yields.

Solar-powered Pumps

The Horticulture Innovation Lab at UC-Davis notes the advantages of solar-powered irrigation pumps. A solar-powered water delivery system cuts electricity costs and reduces labor requirements.

A grower can create a cost-effective system comprised of photovoltaic (PV) panels, drip irrigation kits and 12-volt pumps. An effective filtration system is also essential for efficient operation. Solar pumps are particularly effective in both remote and hilly settings.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab says a simple 50-watt solar panel can power a 12-volt pump. Such a pump is capable of moving 350-700 gallons of water per hour to a water storage tank. From there, gravity feeds the water to the drip irrigation system.

The system makes use of materials typically available from local suppliers. Examples include storage tanks, filters, irrigation tape/tubing, wiring, piping, valves and fittings.

Future Prospects for Solar

Three important trends will drive further adoption of solar technology by California’s growers. First, the declining cost of solar components and installation. Second, California’s ambitious clean energy goals. Third, advances in solar-powered sensor technology and solar-powered pumps.

A growing synergy of sensor technology, wireless communication, smartphone applications and cloud-based data storage bodes well for solar-assisted irrigation in the future.

Also, the Horticulture Innovation Lab intends to continue to promote solar-powered drip irrigation. The team there will test new components that will drive further solar system efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Final Thoughts

At Fruit Growers Supply, we’ve been devoted to meeting the needs of California’s growers since 1907. We offer commercial irrigation expertise that may benefit your operation. We design and install cutting-edge irrigation systems for growers. Once your system is in place, look to us for maintenance, parts and repairs.

Fruit Growers Supply maintains convenient locations in Santa Paula, Woodlake, Porterville and Orange Cove. We can also recommend sources for photovoltaic (PV) panels and other solar equipment. For further assistance, please call or contact us today.

 

Solar Power’s Benefits Increasingly Recognized by California Farmers, by Fruit Growers Supply Staff, Fruit Growers Supply, August 19, 2019.

State Utilities Regulator Wants Customer Input About PG&E’s Proposed Rate Increase

The California Public Utilities Commission is holding forums around the state to get feedback from Pacific Gas & Electric customers about the company’s proposed rate hike. It’s a process most utilities undergo every three years.

PG&E is asking its regulator, the CPUC, to approve a rate increase that would add a billion dollars to the company’s revenue in 2020. The utility says the increase is to cover operating costs and to fund a wildfire safety program.

“I think, really, we’re having to pay for the cost of all these incidents that PG&E has had,” says Mary Curry, a Fresno resident who attended the meeting. “They can call it fire safety if they want to, but it’s us paying for fires that PG&E was negligent in taking care of.”

PG&E was found responsible for the Camp Fire last November that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. The company has since filed for bankruptcy, but PG&E says the rate increase won’t fund claims related to that.

Curry says this is the second time she’s tried to protest a rate increase from PG&E.

“And I’m not sure it’s made a difference, but I keep doing it because somebody’s got to speak for us, you know?” says Curry. “We don’t have alternatives. If I had another company I could use, that would create some competition and I would use them.”

PG&E estimates the rate increase would add about ten and a half dollars a month to typical residential bills. If the regulator approves the increase, it could take effect next year.

State Utilities Regulator Wants Customer Input About PG&E’s Proposed Rate Increase, By Laura Tsutsui, KVPR, August 15, 2019.

Low on water, California farmers turn to solar farming

If California is to meet its goal of running on 100-percent clean electricity by 2045, fields that once grew hay are going to have to start producing electrons. That’s according to a new report from The Nature Conservancy that estimates the state will need to cover an area at least twice as large as Yosemite National Park with solar panels and wind turbines.

That may seem like an ambitious ask, but the amount of California land devoted to renewable energy is already slated to grow exponentially. Part of the driving force is water scarcity: A state law now requires water regulators to figure out how to balance their accounts so that groundwater levels stop dropping. (For the past 50 years California has been pumping far more water out of the ground than filters back into aquifers.) To comply, farmers would have to stop irrigating at least half a million acres, according to a study by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Letting valuable land go unirrigated isn’t exactly appealing to many growers. But the Nature Conservancy report suggests a good chunk of that acreage could be used for solar and wind farms. The report states that between one-third and one-half of the space needed by the state for renewables could come from agricultural acres starved for water.

California farmers have already begun embracing solar panels. For some grow operations, installing a small number of solar panels has been a way to save on energy bills. A few years ago the Bowles Farming Company, near Los Banos, California, put up solar panels on four acres to partially offset the electricity needed for a new drip-irrigation system. “When we converted to drip we started to see increased costs because we’d gone from gravity-driven irrigation to pump-powered irrigation,” said Derek Azevedo, the executive vice president of Bowles. Azevedo said the investment is paying off, and the company is planning on erecting more panels.

Other farmers are converting much bigger sections of their land to solar farms. The Los Angeles Times recently listed a few of the major projects underway: There are plans to build the largest solar farm on earth on agricultural land, in California’s Central Valley. Maricopa Orchards, at the southern end of the Central Valley, is putting up 4,000 acres of solar panels, and setting aside 2,000 acres of habitat for kit foxes and burrowing owls, as environmental mitigation.

But for all the energy sense it makes to plant solar panels in sun-soaked agricultural areas, the Nature Conservancy notes that there may be pushback when it comes to the impact on native flora and fauna. Unless new solar operations are placed carefully, those miles of panels could destroy important habitat for wildlife, and cover some of the most bountiful farmland in the world.

Another potential roadblock: while planting solar panels where almond trees once bloomed could help defuse California’s looming water crisis, so far, most installations have gone up on cattle pasture and other types of land that offers low profits per acre, said Ellen Hanak, who directs the Water Center at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“A lot of it is going on non-irrigated rangeland,” she said. But if farmers will also have to stop growing on irrigated land to avoid overdrawing aquifers. Solar panels would make sense on about 9 percent of this idled land, according to the Public Policy Institute of California’s estimates.

But that’s not stopping several California ag bigwigs from jumping on the solar bandwagon. Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who control more farmland than anyone else in America, are building solar panels on the massive pomegranate, citrus, and nut plantations of their Wonderful Company, north of Bakersfield. The company should be able to make as much money selling solar power as it does selling almonds and pistachios within the next few decades, Steven Swartz, the company’s vice president of strategy, told the Times.

And a 20,000-acre solar farm — the largest in the world — is planned on the west side of the Central Valley, on land tainted with crop-choking salts, according to the Times.

And what about the rest of the acreage needed to meet California’s clean energy goals? The Nature Conservancy’s analysis suggests that, if it builds major transmission lines to other states, California could meet its energy needs without spilling into important wildlife habitat.

 

Low on water, California farmers turn to solar farming, by Nathanael Johnson, Grist, August 6, 2019.

California farmers are planting solar panels as water supplies dry up

Jon Reiter banked the four-seat Cessna aircraft hard to the right, angling to get a better look at the solar panels glinting in the afternoon sun far below.

The silvery panels looked like an interloper amid a patchwork landscape of lush almond groves, barren brown dirt and saltbush scrub, framed by the blue-green strip of the California Aqueduct bringing water from the north. Reiter, a renewable energy developer and farmer, built these solar panels and is working to add a lot more to the San Joaquin Valley landscape.

“The next project is going to be 100 megawatts. It’s going to be five times this size,” Reiter said.

Solar energy projects could replace some of the jobs and tax revenues that may be lost as constrained water supplies force California’s agriculture industry to scale back. In the San Joaquin Valley alone, farmers may need to take more than half a million acres out of production to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which will ultimately put restrictions on pumping.

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