For Immediate Release: September 8, 2010
Media Contact: Sandy Louey - 916-654-4989


CA Energy Commission Awards $1.5 Million for Research Projects

SACRAMENTO - The California Energy Commission today awarded $1,509,140 for research projects related to energy use in multi-family buildings and techniques to increase the survival of young desert tortoises. Funds for the two research projects come from the Commission's Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program.

"Since 33 percent of California households live in multi-family buildings, the Commission feels strongly about improving the energy efficiency in these types of homes," said Energy Commissioner Jeffrey Byron. "In these tough economic times, Californians need to know that saving energy on their utility bills not only conserves power, but saves money."

Benningfield Group will receive $1,270,830 to research energy use in multi-family buildings. The Folsom-based company will provide additional funding of $608,800. Current research on building energy efficiency has focused mainly on single-family homes, even though one-third of California households live in multi-family homes. The percentage of new residential multi-family units has increased steadily in the past 15 years, with roughly half of the California residential units constructed in 2008 and 2009 being multi-family.

The project will help the Commission's efforts to update the state's building efficiency standards by increasing the understanding of how multi-family buildings perform. The project will provide proposals to improve energy efficiency through building code changes; innovative design solutions to improve indoor air quality; cost-effective performance windows; and a strategy to reduce electricity consumption with "smart controls." Collectively, the project is expected to improve energy efficiency by at least 30 percent.

The Commission also awarded UC Davis $238,310 to research habitat suitability for young desert tortoises and methods to increase their survival. The project will help mitigate renewable energy projects in California deserts.

Currently, there is little understanding of the ecology, habitat use, and resources needs of hatchling and juvenile desert tortoises. The research will evaluate the effectiveness of "headstarting" and jumpstarting juvenile desert tortoises as innovative mitigation and recovery tools. Headstarting calls for maintaining eggs and juveniles in semi-natural enclosures for a period of time to protect them from predators. Jump-starting will use rain supplementation to mimic natural rainfall in non-drought years to increase the food supply. That could potentially double the growth rate of hatchling tortoises, according to the project proposal.

The project calls for collecting habitat use data on hatchlings and juveniles in the Mojave Desert that will improve habitat suitability models. The models will help to predict and identify optimal habitat for desert tortoises and assist in locating potential energy projects away from the habitats.

As part of the project, UC Davis is providing $46,150 in the form of in-kind services. The National Park Service's Mojave National Preserve is constructing and operating the new Ivanpah Desert Tortoise Research Facility, where the research will be conducted. The University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory is contributing the use of equipment.

The Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program supports public interest research and development that helps improve the quality of life in California by bringing environmentally safe, reliable, and affordable energy services and products to the marketplace. For more information, visit

Created by the California Legislature in 1974, the California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency. The Energy Commission has five major responsibilities: forecasting future energy needs and keeping historical energy data; licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger; promoting energy efficiency through appliance and building standards; developing energy technologies and supporting renewable energy; and planning for and directing state response to energy emergency.

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