Author Archives: Andrea Kissack

Andrea describes herself as madly in love with wine, the growing, making and drinking of it and actively pursues all three activities. She is a Senior Editor and host with KQED's science and environment multimedia series, QUEST. She has covered a number of wine-related stories during her career including: how some children of Mexican vineyard laborers are now vintners, the impact of climate change on Napa wineries and the dizzying array of eco-wine choices. When she is not working, Andrea often finds herself cycling through vineyards not just in California but along the Croatian coast and Germany's Rhine River, high in Portugal's Douro Valley and through the wine lands of South Africa's Western cape. Of course, one eventually has to get off their bike and experience the regional tastes in this case, dry eastern reds, cool crisp Rieslings, aged Tawny Port and lush, acidic Chenin Blancs. Anyone thirsty?

How Green is Your EV?

A new study and map reveal that it depends on where your juice is coming from

Andrea Kissack

The author's EV gets "tanked up."

Just because an electric vehicle (EV) lacks a tail pipe, it doesn’t mean it’s always cleaner than other fuel efficient cars. According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, where you live may determine how clean your electric car is.

The new report, called “State of Charge,” looks at the entire life cycle of EV emissions that includes energy inputs from start to finish, not just during drive time. In other words, what kind of emissions do EVs create from charging on an electric grid and how does the cost of that charging compare to filling up a gasoline-powered vehicle? Continue reading

Solar Heats Up In San Francisco

The solar industry has descended on the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco this week. Organizers of the third annual Intersolar North America Conference and Expo expect more than 20,000 attendees.

After a period of explosive growth, the current economic downturn has tested the mettle of solar businesses. Demand for products has declined and panels are sitting on shelves in Europe.

It’s expected that the industry will pick back up as individual states, such as California, and some countries, continue working toward renewable energy goals. As Climate Watch and KQED’s Quest science unit have highlighted in recent reports, California has set a goal for utilities to get a third of their electricity from clean sources by 2020.

But to put that in perspective, Germany, a world leader in solar production, hopes to reach 100% by 2050. And the recent move to cut subsidies notwithstanding, Germany might be on track to reach that goal. At the opening session of Intersolar today, Hans Josef Fell, who helped start a photovoltaic revolution in Germany and is a member of the German parliament, says it is that national commitment that has made the difference. Rooftop solar in Germany, for example, covers nearly 20% of single-family homes and, according to Fell, nearly 60% of multi-family homes and businesses have solar on the roof. During the current economic crisis, Fell says, renewable energy has been the biggest job driver in Germany.

Discussion of large-scale solar opportunities took up a big chunk of the first day at Intersolar. Market analysts, utilities and developers gathered on the dais to discuss ways to help “big solar” grow bigger, especially in California. The take-away: the biggest obstacle is not finding land or overcoming a slow permitting process, but updating transmission lines. A representative from SunPower Corporation said interconnection with the grid and more capacity are among the biggest obstacles to moving forward with medium and large-scale solar projects.

Later this week, attendees at Intersolar take up urban renewable projects and the ins and outs of doing solar business in California. The conference continues through Thursday.

Passionate About Panoche

The “33 x 20″ series continues today on Quest Radio, with the second of two parts on the proposed Solargen project in San Benito County. The report will be repeated on The California Report weekly magazine on Friday.

Catch up by listening to the first part and reading the accompanying blog post from last week.

PG and E already has transmission lines running along the Panoche valley floor.

PG and E already has transmission lines running along the Panoche valley floor. Photo: Andrea Kissack.

One thing becomes clear when you visit the Panoche Valley and the people that live and work there, everyone is charmed by it. The local ranchers, the environmental advocates, even the biologists hired by the Silicon Valley company that is looking at developing part of the valley for a commercial solar farm.

Thousands of acres of vast cattle land ringed by golden, scrub covered hills make up the Panoche Valley. The area has a vast, open beauty that seems very Californian. But in the springtime locals say it looks like Ireland. The land has also caught the eye of the CEO of Solargen Energy.

The company would like to build a 420 megawatt solar farm that would power about 120 thousand homes. To do so, Solargen would cover much of 4,700 acres of the valley with photo voltaic solar panels. Locals like chicken rancher Kim Williams worry it would change the character of the valley and harm wildlife. A group of local environmental advocates and ranchers have formed a group called Save Panoche Valley.

Kim Williams runs Your Family Farm in the Panoche valley and is opposed to the Solargen project.

Kim Williams runs Your Family Farm in the Panoche valley and is opposed to the Solargen project. Photo: Andrea Kissack.

Solargen, as required by law, has hired a team of wildlife biologists to do environmental surveys of the area which, it turns out, is home to several endangered species. Michelle Korpos, the leader of the team, has also developed a fondness for Panoche Valley where she has been working for the past year. Everyday she and group of biologists march out to the project site, and surrounding hills, searching out fox dens, canvassing creek beds and geo-tagging lizard scat.

Michelle Korpos, along with other biologists, has been hired by Solargen to run wildlife surveys for an Environmental Impact Report.

Michelle Korpos, along with other biologists, has been hired by Solargen to run wildlife surveys for an Environmental Impact Report. Photo: Andrea Kissack.

Charlie McCullough has owned his cattle ranch, one of the biggest in the area, since the early fifties and was born in San Benito County. He is one of five ranchers who has agreed to sell some of his land to Solargen. But McCullough is feeling remorseful that his decision could lead to such a change in the valley he loves.

 Charlie McCullough has agreed to sell some of his land to Solargen for their big solar project.

Charlie McCullough has agreed to sell some of his land to Solargen for their big solar project. Photo: Andrea Kissack.

The only commercial business in town is the Panoche Valley Inn which is not really an inn at all but a bar that serves as a stop for tired ranchers at the end of the day and birders and bikers on sunny weekends. The owner hopes the project’s contstruction jobs mean more business over the six year build out. But even the number of jobs Solargen promises to create has become contentious.

Larry Lopez, owner of the Panoche Inn, hopes construction of a big solar array would bring in more business.

Larry Lopez, owner of the Panoche Inn, hopes construction of a big solar array would bring in more business. Photo: Craig Miller.

One thing is for sure, the valley gets lots of sun, 90-percent of the solar intensity of the Mojave desert. But the Mojave, with its protected federal lands and desert tortoises, has turned out to be a nightmare for big solar entrepreneurs. Listen to our stories on the Panoche Valley which now finds itself in the middle of the debate over big solar. It’s all part of our series, “33 by 20,” a look at the obstacles in the way of California’s plan for utilities to generate one third of their electricity from clean energy by 2020. Here’s a map of solar intensity throughout the U.S.