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Santa Maria Sun / News

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

Summit highlights Santa Barbara County's energy sector

BY AMY ASMAN

The California Energy Action Summit held April 12 in the dining room of the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott Hotel offered a diverse sampling of speakers, including experts from Texas and North Dakota—two of the highest-ranked states in the nation when it comes to employment in the oil and gas industry.

Delore Zimmerman kicked off the daylong summit by sharing some details about North Dakota’s Bakken formation, which he called a hydrofracturing “success story.”

He then turned his attention to Santa Barbara County’s unique energy sources, such as solar electric projects, turbines, and drilling for oil and gas.

“It’s always amazing and striking to me that people in an area don’t really know what’s going on [in energy production],” Zimmerman said.

He also said competition for such resources will only continue to increase because “everybody in the world wants our standard of living and they’re fighting pretty hard to get it.”

During a panel on emerging—or “alternative”—energy sources, locals learned about some interesting projects getting off the ground in Lompoc and the Cuyama Valley, and existing projects at the Chumash Casino and Resort and the county of Santa Barbara.

Pacific Wind Power, LLC, is in the process of launching the Lompoc Wind Energy Project, a turbine development near Miguelito Canyon. Managing partner John Stahl said the project was stalled by a lawsuit, which the higher court ultimately rejected. Limited transmission access has made things difficult as well. He also said there’s a misconception held by some members of the public that turbines kill a substantial number of birds.

By comparison, Stahl said, turbines are responsible for less than 1 percent of avian deaths.

“House cats are the No. 2 killer,” he said.

Despite some challenges, the company expects to begin construction late next year with energy production beginning in 2015. It’s estimated the turbines will generate approximately 80 to 100 megawatts, an amount Stahl said could replace as much as 500,000 barrels of oil.

First Solar and Pacific Gas & Electric are currently developing the Cuyama Solar Array Project, a 40-megawatt solar photovoltaic energy facility—a miniature version of Topaz Solar Farm, a 550-megawatt project in the Carrizo Plains.

According to Kathryn Arbeit, director of project development for First Solar, the Cuyama solar array will generate enough energy to power 13,000 homes per year. She estimated that the ongoing construction process has created 200 jobs for area engineers, architects, and laborers, as well as tax revenue for the county.

These statistics, however, didn’t sit right with some people in the audience.

“Seeing the Earth quit getting warmer 20 years ago and that renewable energy projects are five time as expensive to develop, how can you justify crushing the poor under these towering overhead costs?” asked one man.

The panelists said part of their mission is to educate the public about the benefits of alternative energy and to help build the blossoming industry.

The summit then transitioned to the oil and gas industry with a speech from Bill White, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy under President Bill Clinton and former mayor of Houston, and a study presented by Peter Rupert, chair of UC Santa Barbara’s economics department.

Commissioned by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and funded by contributions from the oil and gas industry, the study reported that oil and gas production generates about $280 million per year and supports approximately 1,600 jobs, including engineers, laborers, architects, and even food servers. It’s estimated producers pay close to $7.6 million in property and sales taxes as well.

Other industries that Rupert said have grown in the county are mining and information technology.

The summit also included talks on oil-bearing diatomite; the regulatory role of the state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources; the Monterey Shale formation; and “green” practices in oil fields.