Business

Wednesday, Nov 14 2012 05:05 PM

Speakers share stories of success, woe at energy summit

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

A small but symbolic error made its way into the program given out to the 300 or so people who attended Wednesday's sixth annual Kern County Energy Summit.

According to the program, oil industry representative Les Clark was planning to deliver a presentation titled "Petroleum: The Future."

But when he took the podium, the executive vice president of Bakersfield's Independent Oil Producers Agency said someone had mistakenly removed an important piece of punctuation. His presentation was actually titled "Petroleum: The Future?"

The distinction was an apt one.

Although people often refer to Kern County's energy industry as a single entity, it become obvious in the course of Wednesday's speeches that there are actually two separate parts of the industry -- renewable and nonrenewable energy producers. And while the two are considered necessary and complementary, their near- and long-term prospects appear distinct.

It's not that nonrenewable energy sources like oil and gas are going away anytime soon, speakers said, or even that nonrenewables like wind and solar are somehow more important or less so to the local economy.

What makes their outlook so different is that while government policy generally supports investment in renewables, state regulation is making things very difficult for nonrenewables.

A good example is AB32, the state law that aims to roll back greenhouse gas emission levels by, among other things, forcing air polluters to buy credits at a state-run auction (which, incidentally, took place Wednesday; results are expected to be announced in about a week).

The president of the Western States Petroleum Association, Cathy Reheis-Boyd, told Wednesday's audience that AB32 is a "big issue" for refiners and oil producers, and that it needs to be fixed, fast.

Otherwise, consumers will pay the price -- between 83 cents and $1.83 a gallon at the pump, she said -- as refiners find it more profitable to ship their product overseas rather than pay the extra costs created by AB32.

"We really do need a different conversation about this" law, she said.

Clark, with the local oil association, was no less pessimistic, saying state regulation of petroleum operations is "enormous" and could worsen now that Democrats' have a super-majority in the state Legislature.

"You don't move oil fields," he said. "We're stuck in California."

The tone of speakers from locally operating wind and solar companies could not have been more different at the event inside the Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center.

Several executives from the renewable energy side of the industry spoke of creating jobs, improving efficiencies and lowering costs. Some also heaped praise on Kern County's permitting process.

"We will come when the policy environment is sufficiently supportive," said Mark Tholke, vice president of origination in the southwest region at EDF Renewable Energy, which has solar and wind projects in eastern Kern. He added that the county's permitting process is the best in the state, "bar none."

The event's keynote speaker, Amanda Little, an author and investigative journalism teacher at Vanderbilt University, touched on the need to continue accelerating production of renewables and nonrenewables to meet domestic demand, even as the country works to moderate its energy appetite.

Calling Kern County the "El Dorado of energy production," Little commended the local industry's progress in developing both types of energy production, and said it is "critical" that the rest of the nation do the same.

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