While some of the most sophisticated race cars in the world in the world were on the track Thursday at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway, State Assemblyman Jared Huffman (San Rafael) was talking about the future of the cars on the state's roads.
As Huffman and others pointed out over the roar of Marco Andretti's IndyCar engine, the race track might seem like an unusual place to talk about green energy, but it is essential to the development and marketing of new technology.
"I'm here to tell you racing will go green; you will go green," said Hunter Lovins, president and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions. "Sustainability is higher performance. This is part of the message that's been missing. … This is where tracks like Infineon come in. We need to prove this, we need to test it, we need to show that it's true. We need tracks like Infineon to reach a crowd of people who would never come to a talk (on sustainability) anywhere else."
Industry leaders from Tesla, Amyris, Audi, Panasonic, Infineon Technologies and others, along with engineering students from UC Davis, UC Berkeley and Stanford, attended a Green Energy Summit at the Sonoma road course ahead of this weekend's Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.
There might have been some competitive excitement missing when several alternative energy-based cars, including the Nissan Leaf, took a demonstration spin around the track. There was something else missing: noise. As with the electric motorcycle races held at Infineon Raceway earlier this year, the only sound was a hushed breeze.
The sound of silence might not fly with race fans, but it could be a godsend for anyone fighting noise pollution.
Infineon Raceway has been a leader in green business. A herd of sheep landscapes the hills. Owlboxes have been installed on the property and the owls have been effective in reducing the rodent problem. A population of endangered red-legged frogs was moved to a safe location in a pond near the track. A large solar panel was recently installed to help power the roadside sign at the track. It's also been one of the top recyclers of waste and fossil fuels in the industry.
Huffman, who has built his political career on a strong environmental platform, is making a run at the seat left vacant by the retirement of Lynn Woolsey in California's 2nd Congressional District. "There is some grant money from the AB 118 program and some federal stimulus money that we hope to roll out for charging stations," Huffman said of his hope to expand the use of electric vehicles, particularly in Marin and Sonoma counties.
The Transportation Authority of Marin has targeted a site near Safeway in the Corte Madera Town Center for charging stations for the new generation of electric vehicles.
"I'd expect (TAM) to look into applying for that money and if I can be helpful in connecting them with those dollars then I would try to do that," Huffman said.
Huffman might have tipped his hand toward his political plans, although it looks like there will be little change in his direction.
"The other thing the state can do is to try to make sure that we're anticipating this stuff and getting our policies in line," Huffman said. "The Public Utilities Commission really needs to get a stable regulatory framework in place for these charging stations and the industries that are going to be popping up around the charging stations. How is it going to be regulated? Is it going to be regulated like a utility? Will it be regulated some other way? We've never had anything like these charging stations before."