California Exports Hit October High

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Go west, young cantelope. At the Port of Hueneme (sounds like why-NEE-mee), fruit comes in and fruit goes out (Credit: Port of Hueneme)

$12.91 billion in goods exported to foreign markets would mark a 16.5 percent increase over October 2009.

According to an analysis of today's U.S. Commerce Department figures by Beacon Economics, we're doing better than we've done in three years, in inflation-adjusted terms.

October also marked the 12th consecutive month of year-over-year increases in California's export trade,

Commerce Department officials credit growing demand for U.S. goods by consumers overseas and, of course, the falling dollar.

As the Solar Panel Price Turns

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Niftier than flat solar panels, but bumping up against the economic reality that cost drives choice more often than not. (Credit: Solyndra)

The most concise explanation yet of Solyndra's struggle to stay afloat comes this week from Susan Kraemer of

She tells us, as PV Tech reports, that Solyndra has completed a 1.2 MW solar installation on a large warehouse roof near Toulouse, France. The system, which consists of more than 7,080 Solyndra CIGS panels, is the largest Solyndra system in France and one of the largest worldwide.

A French partner, Nazca, installed the roof array for a warehouse owned by Port de Barcelona, one of the main commercial transport and distribution arteries in the Mediterranean area.

Kraemer explains that Solyndra's competitive advantage is two-fold: a unique cylindrical solar panel that can convert reflected light from all angles when installed on flat white building roofs; and it's easy (i.e. cheap) to install.

Solyndra's problem is that the panels are made of thin film; copper-indium-gallium-deselinide. This kind of solar panel material used to be cheaper than silicon. Not now it isn't.

The Gravitational Pull of China

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The back end of yet another green tech vehicle headed for manufacture in China. (Credit: ZapWorld)

A recent report from iSuppli, an El Segundo technology research firm, predicts China will dominate nearly 72 percent of new photovoltaic manufacturing capacity this year.

Chinese companies hold seven of the positions on iSuppli’sT op 10 list, representing 6,445 megawatts of manufacturing capacity.

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa's Zap electric vehicles will most likely go into high-volume production in China. The North Bay Business Journal reports the zero emission vehicle pioneer is in the process of locking down a 51 percent stake in Jonway Automobiles in Zheijang Province.

Priscilla Lu of Cathaya Capital, one of Zap’s largest investors and member of its board of directors, breaks it down: “The government subsidizes electric vehicles at about $9,000, and large cities like Beijing and Shanghai add another $9,000. That’s over three quarters of the cost, and the subsidies go to the manufacturer, not the car buyer."

Continue reading »

Toyota, the Biggest Car Manufacturer in California

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A compact hybrid (hence the "CH." "FT" stands for "Future Toyota"). Toyota says it intends to sell a million hybrids a year worldwide, and to that end, is developing a fleet of hybrids in multiple sizes and price points.

At the LA Auto Show, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., debuted the second-generation RAV4 EV.

The basic vehicle will be manufactured in Woodstock, Ontario.  Tesla will build the battery and related bits in Palo Alto.  "The method and installation location of the Tesla components into the vehicle is being discussed," according to the press release.

Some 35 demo vehicles will be built for testing 2011, and then it's off to market in 2012. That's just the RAV4 EV.

Toyota's also planning to launch, with a little help from Panasonic, eight new (not next-generation) hybrid models, a small EV commuter vehicle and a plug-in Prius. Continue reading »

US Senate Chews on Food Safety Bill

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Westland/Hallmark Meat CEO Steven Mendell watches a Humane Society video of "downer" cattle at his slaughterhouse in Chino while he testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 12, 2008. The largest ground beef recall in U.S. history was announced after the video went public. (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ahead of Thanksgiving, the US Senate is discussing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The legislation passed out of a Senate committee last year, but took this long to move through the legislative body's digestive tract.

S. 510 would give the FDA authority to order recalls as opposed to suggesting food producers do it. Also, federal regulators would be able to require food producers draft safety plans and proactively identify and eliminate possible sources of contamination.

Why the slow cook? The Los Angeles Times notes the bill significantly increases the clout of the Food and Drug Administration, and food producers are trying to limit the scope of the legislation, despite a series of highly publicized, deadly food-borne illness outbreaks that suggest self-policing isn't working so well. That, and the full Senate was a tad distracted by the health care overhaul and financial regulation this past year.

Also, there was that kerfuffle over Senator Diane Feinstein's insistence on addressing bisphenol A. The amendment is still in play - although it's a fair bit more modest than when it was launched.

Finally, Senator Jon Tester of Montana wants to exempt small growers and processors out of fear the bill's requirements will drive them out of business. That is a real concern to a number of consumer and environmental activists.

Even if the Senate passes the bill, it still needs to be reconciled with a House-passed version.

BTW, Westland/Hallmark (see photo) went out of business as a result of that recall. KPCC's Steve Cuevas followed up last year, and found the Chino plant under new management.

Northrop Grumman Shifts Gears

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No place for a pilot in there, but somebody designed and built the plane and all the gizmos in it. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

A shout out today for this analysis from Nathan Hodge of the Wall Street Journal.

Anticipating lean defense budgets in the future, Northrop CEO Wes Bush has begun a sweeping corporate restructuring over the past few months. Its most radical component: The world's largest naval shipbuilder may exit the shipbuilding business altogether.

Mr. Bush's strategy reflects a broader shift in America's strategic thinking about the military and the industry that arms it. Tomorrow's battlefields may be in cyberspace—or at the edge of outer space. The new symbol of American military might is more likely to be a remotely piloted drone aircraft prowling miles above an insurgent safe house than a division of Marines storming a beach. Continue reading »

Vets & Unemployment

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Governor Schwarzenegger touring the “Honor a Hero, Hire a Vet” job fair at The Proud Bird Restaurant in Los Angeles. (Credit: Schwarzenegger's Office)

California is home to more veterans than any other state in the nation: 2 million men and women. You'd think their experience and training would make them eminently desirable to employers, but the 2009 California unemployment rate for veterans 18 to 24 years old was 25.9 percent, far above the 19.8 percent rate for non-veterans in the same age range, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yesterday’s "Honor a Hero, Hire a Vet" fair in LA brought out big name employers, like Kaiser Permanente, the Los Angeles Police Department, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

But it doesn't take a big, urban employer to give a vet a helping hand up. Lily Casura of the Napa Valley Register tells us about a program called the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. Established farmers mentor  Iraq and Afghanistan vets, helping them get launched, and ultimately, self-sufficient.

Santa Cruz-area organic farmer Michael O’Gorman started the program. He says, “It’s not just the plants and animals that are healing — it’s having a mission, where young people who want to work hard and produce real goods are valued again. It’s being needed — and our farming community needs young, bright, strong people who stand back up when they are knocked down.”

KQED's Forum addresses vets and unemployment today at 9:30.

Hollywood Goes Mad for Bollywood

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Bollywood Step Dance performs at the 8th Annual Ivy Bethune Tri-Union Diversity Awards on August 23, 2010 in Burbank. Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

The flirtation becomes official today when LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signs a joint declaration between the City of Los Angeles and the Indian film industry to "develop and strengthen motion picture production, distribution, technological, content protection and commercial cooperation between the two filmmaking communities and increase Indian production in the City of Los Angeles."

Welcome to the new era of film/TV/ad shoot cultivation. So Cal entertainment industry boosters have largely flailed about helplessly as other cities, states and countries steal away the business with tax breaks, subsidies (and in some cases non-union labor). Now, that sucking sound you here is the pull to bring foreign shoots here.

What exactly is Los Angeles promising? Continue reading »

New Congress, New Playing Field

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Breathe deeply, and assess the political landscape. (Credit: Skampy)

A number of advocates for climate-change legislation lost their seats Tuesday. What that means for California's green tech industry is covered in haze, or possibly smog.

Tiffany Hsu of the LA Times goes on to posit that federal lawmakers will tighten the spigot on funding to solar, wind and other alternative energy projects.

Half of the freshman Republicans deny the existence of man made climate change, according to an analysis by Think Progress, a website run by the Center for American Progress. That would include those joining the California delegation:  Jeff Denham (CA-19),  Andy Vidak (CA-20), and possibly, David Harmer, depending on whether he wins in (CA-11). Continue reading »

Hang Onto Your Wallet; Food Prices Rising

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David Goodman heads the Redwood Empire Food Bank, which delivers fresh produce daily to hungry people in Sonoma County. (Credit: KQED/Rachael Myrow)

Brace yourselves, warns the Wall Street Journal. Prices of staples including milk, beef, coffee, cocoa and sugar have risen sharply in recent months. Food makers and retailers don't want to eat those higher costs forever.

"The big challenge will be, how much can we swallow and how much can we pass along?" said Jack Brown, chief executive of Stater Bros. Markets, a 167-store grocery chain based in San Bernardino.

Stater Bros. has seen the prices it pays for cereal rise 5% in recent months. The chain has passed about half the increase on to consumers.

One of the biggest cost drivers...growing demand for meat in China, India and other emerging markets. That's driven up grain prices, which in turn boost the cost of meat, dairy, and cereals. It doesn't help that ethanol is eating up some of the corn we produce. Or that weather is so darn unpredictable.

If you're hurting, remember your local food bank.  The system is remarkably robust and creative meeting the needs of hungry Californians. If you're flush, remember your local food bank.  They need your financial support.