Days after she announced her opposition to the proposed rail spur project at the Phillips 66 refinery on the Nipomo Mesa, Rep. Lois Capps led a panel discussion at Cal Poly about how the Central Coast can move away from dependence on fossil fuels.
The Santa Barbara Democrat said the purpose of the panel discussion — held at the Performing Arts Center and open to the public — was to highlight emerging clean energy technologies and discuss what can be done to accelerate development to minimize the impacts of global climate change.
“While climate deniers in Washington have certainly made progress at the federal level difficult, I am proud to say that the Central Coast is forging ahead and leading the transition to a clean energy future here at home,” she said.
The four speakers focused on advancements in renewable energy underway along the Central Coast including wind and solar power, wave energy and biological fuels.
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Dawn Legg, who chairs the Economic Vitality Corporation’s energy cluster, said San Luis Obispo County has a long history of producing energy, most recently the installation of two commercial solar plants in the California Valley that produce 800 megawatts of power.
“We are helping people transition to a new clean economy,” she said. “These projects left us with a more educated and informed population than when we first started in 2010.”
Community solar projects, which allow communities to jointly develop solar projects, are a new and promising trend because they allow communities to move away from reliance on individual rooftop solar, said Mitch Samuelian, who heads the renewable energy division of NRG Energy, which operates the 250 megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch.
Bill Toman, manager of the Cal Wave Project, is experimenting with wave energy generation off Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County. The company is in the permitting phase and hopes to eventually produce 50 megawatts of power from wave energy.
The Central Coast is ideal for wave energy because there is consistent wave action and an elaborate onshore electricity distribution system near large urban areas, he said.
“We are a sort of sleeping giant that is awakening,” he said. “It is also a dream come true, and if it is going to happen, it is going to happen here.”
Tryg Lundquist, a Cal Poly engineering professor, is experimenting with microalgae production that can be used for everything from the treatment of wastewater to the production of biofuels, which are fuels produced from organic matter.
“I always thought that a good thing to do with the Dalidio property at the edge of town would be to put in algae ponds rather than homes, but I think that ship has already sailed,” he said to laughs from the audience.
Capps said her opposition to the rail spur project was prompted by several recent oil industry accidents. In May, an oil pipeline ruptured at Refugio Beach, sending tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean.
“That was a stark reminder of the danger of our continued reliance on fossil fuels,” she said. She also cited a crude oil train derailment in Quebec that exploded and killed 47 people and leveled half of a downtown area. Capps said the Phillips 66 expansion would be too risky.
“Approving the Phillips 66 rail spur project would put communities throughout California at risk for a similar tragedy,” she said. “If approved, communities within one mile of rails would be within the potential blast radius of these crude oil freight trains as they make their way to their final destination in San Luis Obispo County.”
Phillips 66 has applied for a county permit to construct a 1.3-mile rail spur that will allow the refinery to receive up to five deliveries of crude oil a week with 2 million gallons aboard each mile-long freight train. The county is developing an environmental impact report for the proposed project.
Oil company officials say the spur is necessary to keep the refinery functioning in the face of dwindling local production of crude oil.