Sacto’s green payday

New state funding will help local companies invest in alternative energy

The California Energy Commission granted millions to Sacramento’s Atlas Disposal, whose biorefinery converts organic waste into natural gas for its trucks.

The California Energy Commission granted millions to Sacramento’s Atlas Disposal, whose biorefinery converts organic waste into natural gas for its trucks.

Photo courtesy of Atlas Disposal

Could a new grant help put Sacto’s green economy on the map?

The California Energy Commission thinks so. Last week, it awarded $23 million to firms working to develop renewable transportation fuels, such as biogas and hydrogen, as part of the state’s program to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions.

More than $6 million went to Sacramento companies Clean World Partners and Atlas Disposal, who are expanding the Sacramento biorefinery at the city’s transfer and recycling station on Fruitridge Road. The biorefinery, which converts organic waste into natural gas for Atlas garbage trucks, will be expanded with a new biofuel storage facility and increased capacity for 100 tons of garbage per day.

The best part about the newly funded expansion, says Warren Smith, vice president for Clean World Partners, is that local government vehicles can also start filling up at the biorefinery once the project is finished. Atlas Disposal is currently the only company using the natural gas produced from the facility.

“We happen to think there’s great opportunity for biogas to be used as a transportation fuel,” said Smith. “This will open it up to other people other than Atlas Disposal.”

It’s also been a big month for the local green economy.

Several other area firms also received grants from the commission last week, including Sacramento’s Tmdgroup, which received $2.2 million for biofuel-marketing programs, and a Davis-based research center for the U.S. Forestry Service. And two weeks ago, the commission gave $5 million to SacPort BioFuels in West Sacramento to build a biodiesel refinery.

The money for the projects came from the California’s 2007 Air Quality Improvement Program, also known as Assembly Bill 118. That legislation is supposed to pay for green transportation projects, including research on biofuels and renewable energy’s impact on air quality.

It’s also been an economic shot in the arm for Sacramento’s green technology firms. Without public funding, the biorefinery expansion would have been shelved for several years—but instead the commission’s award will create 80 temporary jobs and six long-term positions.

“I think we were going to do something before the award, but it was going to be very small and exclusive to Atlas,” said Dave Sikich, president of the disposal company.

The commission also awarded UC Davis researchers at the university’s Institute of Transportation Studies with $2.7 million to analyze how consumers use green fuels.

“Right now, we have a lot of learning to do about how people like these technologies and how they interact with them,” said professor Joan Ogden, head of the institute’s Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways program. “There are no pat answers for these questions, and that’s where [researchers] can really help.”

Ogden said the institute’s findings will help companies and governments figure out which green technologies seem most feasible. For instance, researchers will figure out if it’s possible to make better refueling stations for electric cars and how to reduce carbon emissions for the aviation industry.

“We want to see real cars and real vehicles on the road during this time,” said Carla Peterman, one of the energy commission’s five members, who awarded the new funding. “We also want to see the money being leveraged for more private investment.”

The money isn’t exactly a handout, Peterman said. To qualify for the state’s program, companies have to finish their projects and turn in the receipts before receiving the award.

“If a project isn’t done, the money doesn’t get paid,” said the commissioner. “We try to work with the awardees to make the project succeed and if it doesn’t, that money can be awarded to somebody else.”