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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on April 17th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 6

Heat wave

I’m not ready to talk about the bombing at the Boston marathon. Not yet.

And I don’t want to talk about DDT-saturated fish swimming—though it sounds to me they should be floating belly up—in Oso Flaco Lake.

But I will talk about how I felt like a fish out of water (a bird out of air?) at the California Energy Action Summit in Buellton on a recent Friday afternoon. I hitched a ride to the event with Managing Editor Amy Asman to rub feathers with the movers and shakers of the Santa Barbara County energy sector.

The event was a who’s-who of folks working in the local oil and gas industry, with some politicians, business owners, and environmentalists mixed in. The audience was rather skewed in favor of Northern Santa Barbara County, so I’m not sure why it was called the California Energy Action Summit, but that’s neither here nor there. Actually, come to think of it, it’s very here.

The morning began with a panel on emerging energy sources, such as wind turbines, solar panels, and alternative fuels. Panelists from such organizations as PG&E, First Solar, and the Chumash Casino and Resort discussed the various “green” energy projects they’re working on. Did you know there are plans for a solar array farm in the Cuyama Valley similar to Topaz Solar Farm up in San Luis Obispo County? The journalist inside of me is almost ashamed to say I wasn’t aware of such a development. I also didn’t know that the casino collects all of its used cooking oil and turns it into fuel for some of its cars. Wow!

I thought the panel was pretty groovy, but some comments from the audience suggested I was in the minority.

One man asked how the people on the panel could justify “crushing the poor” under the towering overhead costs of alternative energy, which he said costs five times as much to produce as do oil and gas. I didn’t get a chance to ask him where he got his information, but his claim that the Earth stopped warming 20 years ago made me think it wasn’t from a scientific source.

During a break after the panel, a woman at the table next to ours got into an animated conversation about some of the statistics presented.

When the woman caught Amy looking at her, she said, “Oh, you must be a globalist.”

To which Amy replied, “I’m a journalist.”

It turns out the woman was upset because she thinks the percentage of energy generated by alternative methods in the area is much smaller than the one reported in the panel because, as she said, “I don’t burn dung for fuel. Do you?”

Amy didn’t get a chance to ask her what she was talking about because the keynote speaker—Bill White, the former mayor of Houston and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy under former President Bill Clinton—had taken the podium.

Mr. White tried to smooth things over with the “green” energy folks by saying, “My house is solar-powered, it’s efficient. I’m not anti-solar. But how many of you here have electric cars?”

As the audience chuckled and guffawed around me, I realized I was a bit out of touch. As I sat there in the freezing cold ballroom of the Marriott Hotel, which obviously wasn’t flexing its power by turning the thermostat down two degrees, I realized that a lot of people still consider alternative sources of energy to be a joke.

I’m not sure why. I get that alternative energy is experimental, but that tends to come with the territory when you’re trying to do something groundbreaking. And I’m not naïve; I’m fully aware of the impact oil and gas have on our standard of living. But what happens when the oil and gas run out? Last I checked, they’re finite sources of energy. When they do run out, I don’t think people will be laughing anymore, but hopefully we won’t have to wait that long to take alternative energy.

One last tidbit: I ran into someone at the summit who recently had the smile wiped off of her face: Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar. If you were paying attention to the Board of Supervisors meeting on April 9, our county’s elected leaders voted unanimously during closed session not to renew Ms. Wallar’s contract.

And you really did need to be paying attention, because the decision was announced by county staff as part of a blasé laundry list of business that went something like this: “Existing litigation … authorization of funds … public employee performance evaluation … the board voted unanimously not to renew the contract of CEO Chandra Wallar, which expires on Oct. 31 of this year.”

Talk about burying the lead!

Yes, it turns out the supervisors weren’t too happy about Wallar’s decision to seek greener (read: money) pastures in Orange County. The CEO seemed to have the new job in the bag, but negotiations ended up falling through, partly because her asking price ($300,000) was too steep.

Wallar initially sent a letter to the Santa Barbara County board saying she wanted to end her career in a “larger and challenging organization.” Now it looks like she’s just ended her career. Better luck next time, Chandra.

The Canary is feeling a bit warm. Contact her at canary@santamariasun.com.