Energy measures could bring business to San Joaquin County
By Hank Shaw
February 29, 2008
Capitol Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO - Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento are setting the stage for a renewable energy boom that will reach into San Joaquin County.
The House of Representatives passed a measure 236-182 Wednesday that would extend a tax credit for renewable energy companies focusing on solar, wind or biofuels.
On Thursday in Sacramento, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata unveiled a series of state measures to boost renewable energy research and development, including a $3 billion bond proposal intended to expand solar and wind energy in California.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, was a wind energy expert before he came to Congress in 2006, and he helped craft the congressional bill, which was also supported by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater. The Mother Lode's congressman, Dan Lungren, did not vote on the measure.
McNerney hailed the measure as a key step in developing a critical mass of renewable energy companies in and around San Joaquin County. His goal is to make the region a clean-energy hub.
"If we can get a few more of these companies to set down roots here, it will build synergy and attract other companies," McNerney said. "We're beating the bushes to make something happen.
McNerney said he's been approached by four clean-energy firms that want to relocate to San Joaquin County. He says they could decide as early as this summer.
If San Joaquin County is to be a hub of a renewable energy boom, the Port of Stockton will be its center.
Jim Walker, vice chairman of the board of the wind energy firm enXco - which has an office in Tracy and operates wind turbines throughout the area - said the Port of Stockton is one of the few places where the massive turbines and towers can be shipped in by sea. Stockton specializes in bulk cargo, not the boxcar containers that dominate most other California ports.
Indeed, Sacramento-based Pacific Ethanol is planning to build a refinery at the port, as is USBioDiesel Group LLC. Another firm, Community Fuels, is planning to install biodiesel production equipment at the port.
In addition, Akeena Solar has an office in Manteca.
Walker said enXco plans to build about 100 new wind turbines around Rio Vista that would generate enough power to supply more than 36,000 homes. Without the tax credit passed by Congress, that would not have happened.
Both Walker and McNerney said that the relatively young solar and wind industries live - or die - on federal and state research and development tax credits. But those credits are subject to the whim of Congress.
"It's a long-term industry supported by a short-term policy," Walker said.
McNerney said he's uncertain of the measure's fate in the Senate.
"It's going to be close," he said. "They're going to do what they're going to do. We have to do what we think is right."
Many Republicans don't like the proposal because Democrats would pay for it by ending an existing tax break for oil and gas companies.
Contact Capitol Bureau Chief Hank Shaw at (916) 441-4078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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