By RUSS LESTER
For the Capital Press
California is poised to be a global leader in clean energy technology, and the agriculture industry is in a good position to benefit from this leadership. There are challenges on the road to a renewable energy future, but Proposition 23 is the wrong response. Proposition 23 would indefinitely freeze California's landmark clean energy and clean air policies, keeping us stuck in the past, dependent on increasingly unreliable and expensive fossil fuels.
California's clean energy and clean air policies have driven investments in renewable energy technology into the state at a dramatic rate -- $10 billion in just the last four years, according to the National Venture Capital Association. These investments come from venture capitalists who recognize lucrative opportunities for growth and innovation in the state's commitment to a clean-energy economy.
On our organic walnut farm and processing facility, we have installed a biogas generator that gasifies walnut shells to produce combustible gas, electricity and heat. This system produces over $70,000 worth of energy every year. We produce even more on-peak electricity with solar panels. We currently use only one-third of our available shells. These walnut shells are a byproduct of our processing. All the energy is used here and the shells are not shipped anywhere, reducing traffic, road and transmission line impacts.
The emissions are low and the byproduct of this machine, bio-char, is an excellent soil amendment. This technology is transferable to other biomass fuels and is available now. The California Biomass Collaborative has estimated that these fuels can provide about 20 percent of California's energy needs.
There are technological, regulatory and financial barriers to the widespread generation of on-farm renewable energy. Producers need technical expertise to accelerate adoption, and financial incentives and investments. This is the kind of innovation that California agriculture has always excelled at. And it's the kind of progress that Proposition 23 would hinder.
California farmers and ranchers have survived the many challenges they face by innovating, adapting, and keeping lots of options on the table. For our industry, it's more important than ever to keep moving forward and not stay stuck in the past. We must focus our resources on moving into the clean, green economy of the future and constructively addressing the barriers to doing so -- not on trying to turn back the clock.
Proposition 23 is funded almost entirely by Texas oil companies. Ninety-eight percent of the money fueling the Proposition 23 campaign comes from oil companies and 89 percent is from out of state. Its backers have no stake in what is best for Californians or for our agricultural economy. They care only about continuing to squeeze windfall profits from our reliance on oil.
In November, we can choose to keep moving forward with innovation and new opportunities, or we can go backward and remain stuck in the past. It is in the interests of California producers to vote "no" on Proposition 23.
Russ Lester is the owner of Dixon Ridge Farms, grower of organic walnuts and largest processor of organic walnuts in the U.S.