Fracking Overtakes Solar in Clean Energy Race

Several years ago, I was newly downsized from the newspaper industry that had been my life for the better part of the previous 25 years.

My options were hardly inspiring. My dad was slowly dying of Parkinson’s and dementia, royally pissed off at the guy he considered his jailer — me. The news business tanked. The jobs that remained had a bunch of us old veterans lining up. Salaries were 50 percent or less what we had made

I had purchased a foreclosed house in terrible shape to rent and subsidize the cost of my father’s care. On the positive side, it took six months to repair. I relearned a lot of construction skills.

Then after seven months, I found another line of work. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was by then in full swing, and it covered my salary assisting cities and counties in California’s San Joaquin Valley installing energy efficient lighting, cooling systems and even insulation. Not too sexy to be certain, but it offered insight into the entirely new realm of clean energy.

Clean energy gets popular

Clean energy at the time still had a lot of hurdles, but with federal stimulus money and constantly increasing costs for fossil fuels the holy grail of cost “parity” appeared attainable. A former co-worker and I started blogging about it, using news gathering talents honed over decades to debut the latest studies, technologies and breakthroughs.

They were heady times.

We thought solar could rescue the economy of California’s interior where sun is a never-ending resource. We called it solar valley.

Fracking takes the spotlight

Now I’m not so sure that prediction is inevitable. Fracking underground oil deposits coincided with that initial solar expansion, providing a new lease on dominance by the fossil fuel industry. Now it’s all I hear about in the traditional media. Jonathan Fahey of the Associated Press wrote in early May 2013 that by now, cars were supposed to be running on fuel made from plant waste or algae — or powered by hydrogen or cheap batteries.

Alas, clean energy has mostly stalled. The auto industry is still getting more efficient and even diesel trucks are getting cleaner, but electric cars remain just a small percentage of the market, biofuels haven’t evolved much and solar’s no longer a major political focus.

Instead, natural gas is getting all the ink. North Dakota has gone nuts with derricks everywhere. And a study by the University of Southern California says the Monterey Shale formation under the San Joaquin Valley could provide “nearly 3 million jobs and close to $25 billion in tax revenues by 2020,” according to a story by John Cox at the Bakersfield Californian.

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