In a dramatic speech on Feb. 24, President Barack Obama vowed to lead America’s economy back to health and prosperity.
In doing so, he laid down a considerable challenge to local elected officials, community and business leaders in the tri-county region.
That challenge boils down to this: creating a new brand for the Highway 101 technology corridor as a leading center for alternative energy production, innovation and research.
Already in San Luis Obispo, county plans are afoot for hundreds of megawatts of solar power, and it hosts REC, a large solar energy company.
Santa Barbara County plans a wind farm near Lompoc, it hosts Clipper Windpower and its University of California scientists are at the leading edge of energy-efficient lighting and environmental management. And Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum is playing a leading role in sustainability on a national stage.
Ventura County has one of the largest privately owned solar fields, is a major producer of solar panels and boasts an energy alliance that has been an advocate for the more efficient use of power.
These are great first steps — but they are not enough.
Rebuilding the region’s struggling economy and forming an alternative energy hub will require a flexible approach to regulation, new power lines, private capital and all of the innovation our entrepreneurs can bring to the table.
Many times in the past, our region has stepped up to challenges. For more than a century, we’ve been leading producers in citrus, viticulture and flowers. In the Cold War, our scientists transformed the Highway 101 corridor into a major hub for sensors and imaging research.
We have transformed the world of biomedical devices and biotechnology, and we’ve created cutting-edge consumer brands such as Kinko’s, Patagonia and Ugg.
Building an economic recovery based on energy innovation and independence may seem like a daunting task. But it presents the best opportunity in recent years for the Highway 101 corridor to distinguish itself and play a role in leading a national initiative.
In remarks after the president’s speech, U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, agreed that creating a magnet for alternative energy firms could power the region’s recovery. “With companies like Clipper and REC Solar, we have the core of an industry to make it work,” she said. Between places like California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and UCSB “there is no shortage of ideas,” she added.
That is the challenge that confronts our leadership in the private and public sectors. It would be ironic, but somewhat fitting, that the Central California Coast, a leading area for oil and gas production, would become a leader in the 21st century energy business.
Seizing this opportunity will reshape our region for years and perhaps decades to come.
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