by Pat McConahay
Steve Bash of Fair
Oaks hasn't been to a gas station since 1999 and that's because he had
what he described as an "epiphany" at the pump.
What Bash did was
radical. He stopped using gasoline altogether. He feeds his automobiles
with something called biodiesel. It's a clean-burning, renewable fuel
produced from any vegetable oil crop like sunflowers or canola.
Bash learned how
to make biodiesel fuel from reading the book, From the Fryer to the
Fuel Tank. And now he concocts his own brew in his garage. He collects
discarded vegetable oil from fast-food restaurants and thins it with
alcohol to power his diesel engine -- and it only works in diesel-powered
vehicles. Bash says it costs just 52 cents a gallon, plus some labor.
something just anyone can or should create at home. But the switch from
fossil fuels, like gasoline, to a variety of cleaner, renewable energy
sources, is gaining momentum in California, thanks in part to the phase
out of the toxic MTBE gasoline additive and tighter clean air standards.
Neil Koehler is
director of the California Renewable Fuels Partnership, a unique coalition
of government, agriculture and environmentalists. Koehler says renewable
fuels are key to the health of the growing Central Valley. He points
out that we have an economic development problem in the Central Valley
of California where farmers are desparate for new economic opportunities.
Renewable fuels could be a shot in the arm to the Valley's agricultural
And former Secretary
of State Bill Jones, a second-generation Fresno rancher, has risen to
the challenge. He bought a bankrupt grain storage facility in Madera
and plans to turn it into California's first large-scale ethanol production
facility. When it's up and running, the facility will produce a fuel
that's 30 cents cheaper per gallon than gasoline and it helps clear
According to one
study an ethanol plant will boost the Valley's sagging economy in a
number of ways, including:
1. providing jobs
3. producing a
high value feed for the dairy industry.
is one concept where farmers and some environmental groups, like the
Planning and Conservation League, actually see eye to eye -- provided
several things occur, such as seeing the creation of domestic supply
here in California, and knowing that the products used to covert into
ethanol are in fact enviromentally sound.
Turning corn into
ethanol is one way the agriculture industry is solving environmental
problems. Grower John Diener is doing it another way. Like Steve Bash,
he's on the biodiesel bandwagon. Diener, makes his own fuel right on
his San Joaquin Valley farm. He's producing it from crops he grows,
such as sunflowers and canola. It's part of a larger project to improve
the environment. Diener came up with a system that manages irrigation
water on salt-sensitive, high value crops. He reuses drainage water
to irrigate salt-tolerant crops like canola. Diener says innovation
on the farm is a must.
And like rancher,
Bill Jones, Diener wants to be part of the solution, rather than the
problem. As does Steve Bash, the self-described sustainable energy enthusiast.
All three are getting the word out that solutions to the Valley's most
serious problems are cropping up in unique ways.