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State Tosses More Cash at Geothermal, Alternative Vehicles

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Northeastern California's Surprise Valley will be explored as a possible source of geothermal power | Photo:sleepinyourhat/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The California agency responsible for implementing the state's energy policy will be pumping a new infusion of cash into alternative vehicles, geothermal energy, and energy efficiency in coming months.

At its first business meeting for the year, held January 14 in Sacramento, the California Energy Commission voted to plow $12 million into three alternative-fueled vehicle programs in California, as well as putting $4 million into geothermal power research and development, and lending $3.5 million to two California cities for energy efficiency upgrades.

The grants announced this month total around $16.3 million, not including the loans. But not all that expenditure is going toward getting the state off fossil fuels: more than half the total, or $11.2 million, comes in the form of a grant to the Regents of the University of California to promote the use of natural-gas-fueled vehicles.

On the more potentially carbon-neutral side, the U.S. General Services Administration will be getting $600,000 to expand its network of electric car charging stations in the state, and another $300,000 will go to the Linde LLC corporation to maintain and collect data from at that company's hydrogen refueling station in West Sacramento.

Meanwhile, the northeast corner of the state is getting some Energy Commission support for expanding its geothermal infrastructure. The Modoc Joint Unified School District in Modoc County is getting $3.1 million to expand the district's geothermal school heating network, adding two more public schools and a public swimming pool in Alturas. Another $1.1 million will go to explore geothermal resources in the Surprise Valley, a hot-spring-filled plain on the border with Nevada.

The loans, made through the Energy Conservation Assistance Act program, include $3 million to San Mateo to upgrade street lighting to energy-efficient LED fixtures, and $562,000 to Morro Bay for upgrades to its heating and cooling systems.

Natural gas vehicles, such as those to be promoted by the UC Regents with the Energy Commission's help, are considered alternative-fueled vehicles because they can produce much less carbon dioxide per vehicle mile than conventionally fueled vehicles. That's because natural gas is primarily methane, a fuel with the highest energy-per-carbon ratio of any fossil fuel. But that doesn't take into account the issue of fugitive methane leaking from gas wells and pipelines. Unburned methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with each pound of the gas contributing as much to global warming as 34 pounds of carbon dioxide.

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