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Friday, Jul 19, 2024

Natural Resources Brighten Antelope Valley Outlook

Economic declines inevitably cause cost-cutting but two things that can never be taken away are the sun and the wind. How to use those natural resources to bring in new industry was the centerpiece of the 37th annual business outlook conference put on by the Antelope Valley Board of Trade and the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance. Business leaders and elected officials seek to replicate the success of the aerospace industry in the Antelope Valley by attracting companies that will push the envelope in green technology in the same way that test pilots continue to do with new aircraft. Wind farms in Tehachapi, biofuel and thermal solar plants near Lancaster, and xeriscaping projects that require less water in both Lancaster and Palmdale are just the start. California and the Los Angeles area already leads the nation in environmental regulations with restrictions that cut down on emissions of trucks at the ports and with AB32, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of cutting them by 80 percent by the year 2050. “It’s all brewing from right here,” said Andrew Winton, an environmental consultant and author on the benefits of business going green in his address to the assembled crowd of several hundred on Feb. 20 at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. The hurdle business needs to get over is that putting environmental initiatives in place equals a cost; and if companies see being green as being costly then it does not become a priority during a recession, Winton said. Companies that have leapt that hurdle now see the benefits of going green. Some of the names given by Winton included General Electric, Duke Energy, Shell, and Alcoa. DuPont has cut its emissions by 75 percent over the past 20 years, Winton said. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer and sponsor of Winton’s speech, has embraced sustainability practices as well. At the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds the company displayed one of its hybrid trucks that will be used in California, all part of the effort to make to turn its supply chain green. Edwards Air Force Base, the Antelope Valley’s largest employer, has cut back on energy and water use. An ongoing project will demolish old and unused buildings and replace them with energy efficient ones. Infrastructure projects moving goods and people such as improvements to Metrolink commuter rail service, high speed rail and commercial air service at Palmdale Airport can all contribute to encouraging clean growth, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said. Making the Antelope Valley a distribution center for containers arriving at area ports would also contribute to reducing emissions and creating jobs, Antonovich said. If anything will help the Antelope Valley reach its lofty goal of becoming a center for clean technology it is two developing projects – the proposed BlueFire biofuels plant and the eSolar power plant in Lancaster. Irvine-based BlueFire has received Los Angeles County permits and approval to construct a plant to make biofuels out of green waste. That’s the woodchips, grass cuttings and other organic waste already generated throughout the Lancaster area. The publicly-traded company said the plant can produce up to 3.2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year. eSolar will unveil its 5-megawatt solar demonstration site next month and follow it up with a 46-megawatt thermal solar plant. The company stations one-third of its 130 employees in Palmdale and Lancaster and has a power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison. It is working with other utilities on similar agreements. “By the time we are done we will produce more electricity than the Hoover Dam,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris boasted. “It’s all renewable; it all comes from the sun.” The eSolar plant does not use photovoltaic solar panels but instead has 200,000 mirrors that produce heat up to 850 degrees that feeds into a boiler to make steam that produces the electricity. The mirrors cost less to produce than solar panels and are easier to install, said Wayne Stevens, senior vice president of operations for Pasadena-based eSolar. An advantage to thermal power is that it can be stored from 30 minutes up to several hours and will continue to make electricity even when clouds cover the sun, Stevens said. The demonstration plant begins producing steam in March and electricity in April. “We’ll be building all over the Southwest,” Stevens said. “The real motivator is making the Antelope Valley the solar capital of the world.” Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy didn’t want to stop with just solar. He sees his district, which extends from the Antelope Valley north to San Luis Obispo County, as an energy corridor comprised of solar, wind, oil and geothermal facilities. There are some 10,000 wind turbines in the Tehachapi valley area, one of the highest concentrations in the nation. The district also produces 70 percent of the state’s oil. “If the district were the entire nation we would be energy independent,” McCarthy said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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