January 10, 2024
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Special comment: Ventura County’s energy landscape


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Henry Dubroff

Ventura County has an diverse array of energy assets, but the rules are going to have to change if innovation is going to flourish in the region.

That was my takeaway after moderating two panels on the future of energy at the Ventura County Economic Development Association’s annual business outlook conference on Oct. 25.

Panelists such as Catherine von Burg of battery maker Ojai Energy Systems called on utilities to “stop blocking” small producers from adding power to the grid.

But John Chellimi, president of independent power plant operator NRG West, said the company will need flexibility from local governments if it is going to locate new natural gas plants in the region to replace aging stations.

Others on the panels spoke to the need for rules to allow Southern California Gas Co. to accept methane produced by trash at energy stations, something that’s already happening in other states.

Gary Stern, head of regulatory policy for Southern California Edison, said the California Public Utilities Commission is beginning to address the storage issue and that the giant utility is likely to welcome new electric car fueling stations as a way to utilize solar power produced during afternoon peak hours.

Tim Noonan, chief financial officer of CoolPlanet Biofuels, said that contrary to some press reports, the company will keep all but six employees in California as part of a headquarters move.

One of the key roadblocks to opening up California’s power grid to new entrants is the need to first address cyber-security issues, several panelists said.

Earlier, keynote speaker Bill Watkins of California Lutheran’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting said traditional oil and gas production contributes $1 billion to the Ventura County economy. Just one company, Aera Energy, employs about 550 people daily and accounts for about half that impact, or $488 million, Watkins said.

If the Monterey shale formations can be successfully extracted, those numbers could grow substantially, said Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association.

About 250 people attended the program at the Ventura County Education Office in Camarillo.