Green energy is back

Wind, solar power company returns to area

If renewable energy is the wave of the future, the best place to ride that wave is right here in sunny San Diego according to Gary Hardke, co-owner of Cannon Power Group.

The 30-year-old independent wind and solar development company is moving its headquarters from Madrid, Spain, to the Del Mar-Carmel Valley area.

“San Diego has an extremely bright future as a center for renewable energy,” Hardke, a Rancho Santa Fe resident said. “It’s a place of innovation; there is so much brain power.” Cannon Power Group was founded in 1979 by fellow Ranch resident Gerald Monkhouse. The group was originally based in Del Mar as the renewable energy industry in California took off, but moved overseas when federal support for renewables nosedived in the 1990s.

Now that California is getting back on track and a green-focused administration is on its way in, Hardke said he is optimistic about the long-term viability of wind and solar energy in the United States.

So, Cannon sold its overseas operations in Spain, Switzerland, India, Italy, Greece, Poland and Turkey, and came back to Del Mar.

Cannon has focused primarily on wind energy, until it launched a solar division in 2007. While sun-generated electricity is lagging behind wind, Hardke said technological advances are making it more efficient.

“We think solar is really going to be the future of renewable projects ... especially in our part of the world,” he said.

Currently, Cannon is working on a solar and wind project covering 100 square miles just south of the border in Baja California. Construction is expected to begin by the end of 2009, and once completed, yield enough energy to power 875,000 households in both countries.

While a small 20-person company, Cannon is developing one of the largest wind projects in the U.S. - Windy Points/Windy Flats is under construction along 26 contiguous miles of Washington ridgelines.

In total, Cannon has about 3,000 megawatts of wind projects and more than 1,500 megawatts of utility-scale solar projects in various stages of development.

But they are not stopping there.

Cannon is planning to dramatically expand in the next 18 months with strategically placed projects throughout the western half of North America, Hardke said.

“Remaining independent has allowed us to be a lot more entrepreneurial, make decisions very quickly,” he said.

Being a small fish in a big pond can make financing the expensive projects a little more challenging, but Hardke said the cost of building wind projects is comparable if not better than fossil fuel projects.

“When you factor in carbon costs, wind energy is a bargain by comparison,” he said.

The key to ensuring the success of clean, renewable energy like wind and solar is stable government policies, Hardke said.

In the past, favorable tax credits have been inconsistent, making it difficult to plan for the future. Cannon provided input on energy issues for President-elect Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, recommending a multi-year extension of federal tax benefits for renewable energy production.

Hardke said it is not clear what policies will be included and if they will come sooner or later, but he’s optimistic “it’s going to be very, very widespread and have a profound impact.”

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