• Automated Vehicles and the Future of Fuel Efficiency

    Cars these days are becoming more and more like computers on wheels. Many car enthusiasts long for the days of simpler designs where they can figure out exactly what's going on... Topic: Fuel efficiency

  • Prius Plug-in Versus Volt: Which Costs Less to Drive?

    Now that Toyota’s Prius Plug-in Hybrid has been officially announced, we can begin the comparisons with the... Topic: EV, Price, Hybrid

  • Now you can determine the solar efficiency of your roof

    It is becoming more and more common to install solar panels on roofs in order to obtain green electricity, but not all roofs are equally suitable.... Topic: Solar, Solar resource

  • Vermont Experiments in Cow Power

    A recent case study in the State of Vermont suggests that deriving electricity from cow manure may be economically feasible. This small and largely agrarian state has no... Tagged: Vermont Topic: Biomass, Waste-to-energy, Anerobic digester

  • World's first consumer standard label for wind power launched

    The technical standard for the first global consumer label for companies to buy wind power and other clean... Tagged: International Topic: Wind

  • Charge It Up: Installing an EV Charging Station at Home

    Exciting, economical, and emission free: That’s the new world of electric vehicles!... Topic: EV

  • World First Low Carbon Fuel to Be Developed for Virgin Atlantic

    Virgin Atlantic today announced the development of a world-first low carbon aviation fuel with just half the carbon footprint of the standard fossil fuel alternative.
    ... Topic: Waste-to-energy

  • Nest Learning Thermostat: Shiny Toy or Serious Tool?

    It looks a bit like a hockey puck, but it’s designed to keep your home warm in the winter, while cooling it in the summer. But while it is indeed slick, it’s a lot smarter than... Topic: Efficiency, Thermostat

  • SAVE Act: Building Energy Efficiency into Home Value

    WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 -- The Alliance to Save Energy issued the following statement by President Kateri Callahan:

    "Every so often, a policy proposal turns out to be every... Tagged: Congress Topic: Efficiency, Legislation, Financing

  • A War Against Food Waste

    A food industry alliance is planning a three-year initiative to reduce the tremendous amount of food that Americans still throw in the garbage even as they grow... Topic: Biomass, Sustainability

  • Meet the Energy Superbugs: Extremophiles

    Extremophiles are tiny microbes that are able to thrive in hot, salty and even acidic or gaseous environments that would kill other forms of life.... Topic: Wind, Biomass, Waste-to-energy

  • Key Step Nears in Va. Quest for Offshore Winds

    A top state energy official says the federal government is preparing to accept expressions of interest from prospective developers of... Tagged: Virginia Topic: Wind, Offshore

  • Science Lags as Health Problems Emerge Near Gas Fields


    Tagged: Geothermal Topic: Natural gas, Solar
  • Health Effects and Light Bulbs

    For the first time scientists examined melatonin suppression in a various types of light bulbs, primarily those used for outdoor illumination, such as streetlights, road... Topic: Lighting, CFL, Solar

  • Duke Energy to Build Second Pennsylvania Wind Farm


    Duke Energy will build a new ... Topic: Wind farm, Wind, Utility scale

  • Military spearheads clean-energy drive


    Tagged: Ethanol, Electric Vehicles Topic: Renewables, Biodiesel
  • Solar homes showcase students’ energy, creativity

    University of Maryland students didn’t compete in the last Department of Energy Solar Decathlon... Topic: Solar, Site News

  • A Solar Panel on Every Roof? In U.S., Still a Distant Dream

    Daunted by high up-front costs, U.S. homeowners continue to shy away from residential solar power systems, even as utility-scale solar projects are taking off. But with do-it-... Tagged: United States, International Topic: Solar, Site News

  • Hog Waste Producing Electricity, Carbon Offsets

    A pilot waste-to-energy system constructed by Duke University and Duke Energy this week garnered the endorsement of Google Inc., which invests in... Tagged: Everything Else Topic: Waste-to-energy, Biomass

  • Waste Water + Bacteria = Clean Energy

    For the first time, researchers have sustainably produced hydrogen gas, a potential source of clean energy, using only water and bacteria.... Topic: Hydrogen

Valley 25x’25 promotes sensible solutions to achieve 25 percent renewable energy in the Shenandoah Valley before 2025.

National 25x'25

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A Look Back at 2011 Brings With It a Commitment to 2012

Thu, 12/22/2011 - 5:49pm

With the close of the year fast approaching, the leadership of the 25x’25 Alliance is taking this time to look back and share with endorsing and funding partners the many alliance accomplishments that could only have been achieved with the time and support of the various agricultural, energy, environmental, labor, science, business, civic and government organizations that make 25x’25 possible.

In a primary effort to shape public policy, the alliance equipped and mobilized all of our partners to proactively advocate for enabling policies that will accelerate the nation’s transition to a cleaner and more secure energy future.

For example, the alliance facilitated a series of dialogues with general farm, crop production and animal agriculture leaders that led to consensus on a set of Policy Planks outlining bioenergy guiding principles and policy positions that can benefit both sectors. Elsewhere on the policy front, the Alliance produced a Clean Energy Policy Brief for Agriculture and Forestry Partners that details the current energy policy environment for the two sectors, while also highlighting several key opportunities and challenges ahead for bioenergy development.

A tangible product from the year was an economic analysis commissioned by 25x’25 from the University of Tennessee. The report, entitled “25% Renewable Energy for the United States by 2025: An Analysis on Jobs Created By Meeting this Goal,” shows that by achieving the 25x’25 clean energy goal, an estimated 1.4 million new jobs and $208 billion in economic would be created by 2015, 2.9 million jobs and $411 billion in economic growth by 2020, and 4.7 million and $646 billion by 2025.

25x’25 contacted key new members of Congress, committee chairs and Senate and House leaders, as well as 24 incoming governors, to introduce them to 25x’25 and encourage them to endorse the vision and support renewable energy policies. Steering committee members engaged in follow-up outreach in their home states and with members of key federal committees such as Agriculture, Energy, Appropriations, and the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

The Alliance and its partners were active in defending farm bill energy title funding, issuing action alerts to its various constituencies and signing on to a letter in support of retaining and fully funding farm energy programs. Additionally, a call to action was issued encouraging elected officials to support the benefits of renewable energy policies.

In a series of special initiatives launched by 25x’25 and its partners in 2011, teams of experts and stakeholders were brought together to explore in depth and make recommendations on several pressing issues. 25x’25 and the Federal Interagency Woody Biomass Working Group convened a diverse team that produced a national Wood-to-Energy Roadmap outlining the path forward for the development of sustainable woody biomass energy solutions for the United States. In another initiative, 25x’25 assembled a  team of agriculture, forestry, business, academic, and conservation leaders to assess the key challenges a changing climate will pose to the agriculture and forestry sectors and develop a prioritized set of recommendations to help producers and land managers adapt to changing conditions.

A CLEAN Initiative was undertaken to explore the utilization of incentive-based rate structures by rural electric utilities for renewable energy development. And a Community Wind Team completed their last phase of work culminating with the creation of the 25x’25-led Community and Distributed Wind Roundtable that bolstered national support for community wind development.

The 25x’25 Alliance, including leadership and partners, worked across the country using a variety of communication outreach tools to reframe the national energy conversation. An op-ed from Steering Committee members Tom Ewing and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin was published in Roll Call on the eve of the debt reduction agreement vote., while Steering Committee Co-chairs Bill Richards and Read Smith were successful in getting their op-ed, “Enough Already,” challenging policy makers not to turn renewable energy into a partisan issue, published in the The Tennessean in Nashville.

An op-ed on the imperative to fund research was co-authored by Steering Committee member Bobby Moser and Gale Buchanan, former USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, and published on the Agri-Pulse website. John Clark, former South Carolina State Energy Office Director, authored a 25x’25 op-ed published in The State newspaper in South Carolina championing the findings of a University of Tennessee/25x’25 report on the economic benefits of implementing a state renewable electricity standard in conjunction with the existing federal Renewable Fuels Standard. And a series of op-eds on funding farm bill energy programs tailored to markets in Washington state, Montana, Ohio and Maryland, and targeting key “super committee” members from those states, were run in state and regional media outlets.

To further advance the mission, the Alliance launched a significant presence on Facebook and Twitter, sharing information and connecting with partners and others interested in renewable energy. 25x’25 also participated in key media events, including the 2011 Ag Media Summit in New Orleans, the National Association of Farm Broadcasters Trade Talk show in Kansas City, the Illinois 25x’25 Renewable Energy Forum in Chicago, and a Town Hall Meeting with USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack in Nashville.

With the help of stakeholders and experts, the Alliance held a series of Webinars on subjects of interest to 25x’25 partners, including community wind; the National Wood-to-Energy Roadmap; win-win bioenergy policies for grain and livestock producers; defending clean energy programs in the era of austerity; and biofuels/bioenergy certification and standards.

And while the alliance has engaged in other vision-promoting activities too numerous to list here, it is important to recognize that alliance has continued to grow with the aid of selfless and tireless volunteer leaders at the state level, producing state alliances that make a critical contribution to advancing the 25x’25 goal.

Of course, none of this work is possible without the generosity and forward thinking of funding organizations, including the Energy Future Coalition, the Turner Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Energy Foundation, Deere & Company, MacDon, AGCO, the Farm Credit System and AgriBank.

With any celebration of accomplishments from a year gone by, it’s also important to look ahead. Going forward, the Alliance is committed to maintaining the strength and diversity of a base of support that now includes nearly 1,000 endorsing partners and a highly respected group of national and state leaders. Efforts will continue next year to mobilize the 25x’25 leadership and partner networks to reframe energy conversations and build grassroots political support for clean energy solutions from farms, ranches, and forests that will drive economic recovery and development, improve national security and provide invaluable ecosystem services.

Until then, the Alliance wishes you the best of holidays.

'Climate-Smart' Agriculture Includes Accelerating Renewable Energy

Thu, 12/15/2011 - 10:39am

Debate continues over just what was accomplished at the latest global climate change talks in Durban, South Africa over the previous two weeks. Whether hailed as a milestone in the ongoing negotiations or seen as simply an agreement to keep on talking, the Durban event did raise agriculture as a major player in the dynamics of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

“Climate-smart” agriculture was a recurring theme during the talks. The concept promotes agriculture as playing a major role in addressing a changing climate, whether it’s sequestering carbon in the soil through specific crop management practices, or through the development of renewable energy sources that replace and reduce dependence on fossil fuels that contribute to changes in climate.

As for the latter course, agriculture and forestry stakeholders have a variety of ways they can produce clean energy, either directly to provide energy on-site or indirectly by integrating this energy into the existing conventional energy supply system. Renewable energy sources – biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, hydro-electric, among other technologies – tend to be widely dispersed throughout rural areas and the potential for further growth and deployment is enormous.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization makes the point that feeding the world in the coming decades will require the gradual decoupling of increasing agricultural production from its dependency on what is ultimately a limited supply of fossil fuels. By working now to accelerate the development of sustainable energy and inputs, agriculture can contribute to both climate and food security, the FAO says.

Stakeholders understand that reducing the dependence of food systems on fossil fuels by using renewable energy is feasible for farm and aquaculture production. Renewable energy can also be used for transporting raw food feedstocks, processing food, distributing finished products and cooking. Renewable energy also presents opportunities to provide much needed basic energy services, including the successful use of solar energy and biomass for heating, cooling, and both dry and cold storage.

Beyond the food system, renewable energy also will play a key role in industrial manufacturing, transportation and electricity generation. In the United States, good renewable energy resources exist on a broad scale and can be exploited by farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to help meet growing energy demand and address the climate issues raised in Durban.

But the trick is to continue bringing the cost of renewable energy technologies down and become more competitive with traditional energy sources, including oil, gas, coal and nuclear. While in a number of specific situations, renewable energy is already economically competitive, it’s critical that policy makers sustain the momentum that has been building in recent years through the extension of programs and incentives that create a solid investment environment for these technologies.

In the short term, Congress is being asked to – and should – extend the Section 1603 program that offers grants in lieu of tax credits for wind, solar and other renewable energy facilities, given the credits have little appeal among businesses that aren’t making the profits needed to deem the credits viable. Another near-term need is an extension of the $1-per-gallon biodiesel tax credit that expires Dec. 31 after resuscitating the industry in 2011, raising total output from 315 million gallons in 2010 to more than 800 million gallons this year.

Other critical renewable energy incentives that need to be addressed by Congress are production tax credits that expire in a year. A $1.01-per-gallon credit for cellulosic ethanol expires Dec. 31, 2012, and a credit of 2.2 cents per kWh for wind energy currently applies only to those facilities placed “in service” by the end of next year.

Similar per-kWh production tax credits for geothermal, closed-loop biomass, open-loop biomass and other technologies are currently available only for those facilities place in service by the end of 2013.

As the Durban talks well demonstrate, world leaders are slowly but surely coming to the realization that agriculture and forestry delivers multiple solutions. That recognition is all the more reason for lawmakers here to retain critically important energy incentives that produce economic, national security and environmental benefits.

Level the Playing Field for All Energy Sources

Thu, 12/08/2011 - 11:09am

Amid the political clamor surrounding congressional efforts to cut federal spending over the next decade and reduce the nation’s deficit, the ethanol industry has conceded that a seven-year subsidy benefiting the sector will end Dec. 31.

The Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, awards gasoline blenders a 45-cent tax credit for every gallon of ethanol mixed into gasoline. The blenders’ credit was originally adopted in 2004 to boost ethanol production, but after being incrementally reduced in recent years, and with the strong growth of the ethanol market, congressional support for it has waned and any expectation of the blender’s credit being extended after this year faded with it.

It also became clear that with the failure of the deficit reducing “super committee” last month, a compromise on ethanol tax incentives crafted earlier this year by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would transition some of the VEETC savings revenue to funding for biofuel infrastructure and incentives for advanced biofuels was no longer a viable option.

Elsewhere, Congress has significantly cut back funding for a number of 2008 Farm Bill energy title programs in recently enacted 2012 appropriations measures. Further cuts are also expected in funding support for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs undertaken by the DOE when Congress takes up those appropriations measures.

As Congress faces a Dec. 16th deadline to reach agreement on remaining federal budgets for the current fiscal year or face a government shutdown, it’s a good time to assess the inordinate sacrifices the renewable energy sector has made to ease the burden on U.S. taxpayers. And it is an appropriate time to ask other players in the energy sector just what they are willing to offer in the struggle to bring our deficit spending under control and draw down our national debt.

The fossil fuel industry is benefiting from subsidies and tax breaks that far exceed those granted to renewable energy. A study done two years ago by the Environmental Law Institute showed that from 2002 through 2008, federal subsidies to fossil fuels – a mature industry that has enjoyed government support for many decades – cost taxpayers some $72 billion. U.S. government subsidies for renewable fuels, a relatively young and developing industry, totaled $29 billion over the same seven-year period.

The largest subsidies to fossil fuels have been written into the U.S. Tax Code as permanent provisions. By comparison, many subsidies for renewables are implemented through energy bills with expiration dates that limit their usefulness to the renewables industry.

The vast majority of fossil fuel subsidies can be attributed to just a handful of tax breaks, such as the Foreign Tax Credit, which applies to the overseas production of oil and allows energy companies to claim a tax credit for payments that would normally receive less-beneficial tax treatment. Another break in the tax code, the Credit for Production of Nonconventional Fuels, applies to supplies developed from sources, including tar sands and shale deposits, which can pose significant environmental impacts. These two provisions cost taxpayers $15.3 billion and $14.1 respectively over the seven-year period studied by the institute.

Meanwhile, almost half of the subsidies for renewables over the period went to corn-based ethanol, which reduced emissions and decreased our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Others went to fledgling solar power, wind energy and advanced biofuel industries that can boost our economy, create jobs and improve our environment.

Yet while these nascent renewable energy industries take huge cuts in support, it is not unfair to point out that the fossil fuel sector, particularly the oil and gas industries, are earning staggering profits, with just five companies reporting $35.1 billion in combined profits in the second quarter of 2011 alone (10 percent greater than those reported for the second quarter in 2010, despite a 7-percent drop in production). Fossil fuel interests, however, complain that any cutbacks in subsidies and benefits will increase the cost of oil, gas and coal. Yet, basic economics show that world supplies dictate price.

Renewable energy interests understand and appreciate the magnitude of the budget challenges facing the nation and we are doing our part. The question must be asked: What are other interests in the U.S. energy sector willing to give up in the fight to reduce the deficit?

Highlighting another Path to Economic, Energy Benefits

Thu, 12/01/2011 - 2:26pm

A principal mission of the 25x’25 Alliance is to bring to the attention of policy makers those mechanisms and technologies that can put the United States on a path to a clean energy future. That mission often means highlighting the research and efforts of those who understand the relationship between the American agricultural and forestry sectors and the innovative solutions to many of our nation’s growing energy needs that come from the land.

In that vein, the Alliance is bringing to the forefront a report released this week that says agricultural and forestry biomass residuals in the Midwest could offer new opportunities for economic development, energy production and environmental conservation.

Harnessing the Power of Biomass Residuals: Opportunities and Challenges for Midwestern Renewable Energy examines the opportunities presented by ag and forestry residues, and the challenges limiting the current capacity of alternative biomass energy technologies.

Steve Brick, a senior fellow on energy and climate at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, authored the study, the fourth in a series on the role of the U.S. heartland in a global economy. He says residual biomass is a valuable regional resource, much of which goes unused. Brick, who this week reviewed his findings with officials at USDA, which helped fund the study, makes clear in the report that there are technologies either available now or soon to come online that can be used to convert these residue streams into various energy outputs, generate revenue and address the waste disposal challenges they present to producers.

The report also points out that residual biomass resources are produced as by-products of existing activities such as growing corn, running a dairy operation or thinning forestlands. Now, these residues and wastes represent potentially attractive opportunities for the Midwest.

The report notes that while livestock agriculture – dairy, in particular – is an important component of the Midwest economy, large operations create manure posing odor, pathogen contamination and water pollution problems. However, with the installation of anaerobic digesters, those operations can reduce, if not eliminate odors, manage pathogens and nutrients, and produce bioenergy.

On another front, technologies for producing ethanol from the cellulose in corn stover are nearing commercialization, allowing a significant portion of stover left from corn production to be used as a biofuel feedstock, eliminating food-fuel controversies and, even more importantly, providing an additional source of farm income.

The report finds that the ecologically sustainable residual biomass resources of the Midwest could be used to produce around 17 percent of the region’s gasoline needs or 15 percent of the region’s electricity, provided that development of these resources is guided by their location and the application of a landscape-based framework that can best evaluate the agricultural, energy, and environmental trade-offs inherent in these bioenergy systems.

It’s also important to remember, the study points out, that non-energy benefits, including environmental enhancement, may be as important as energy benefits in the economic evaluation of these resources.

Among the report’s recommendations is to utilize the region’s manure resource by increasing the penetration of on-farm anaerobic digesters, and developing and testing watershed-based nutrient trading schemes. For example, USDA recently used the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to provide a $1.3 million loan guarantee and a $500,000 grant for a biodigester capable of producing 3.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year at a Jackson County, WI, dairy farm.

Meanwhile, as they wait for the technology to come to fruition, the region’s corn producers can be prepared to participate in a market for cellulose by increasing research to determine acceptable levels of stover harvest, to better understand logistic issues of stover harvest, transport, and storage, and to better estimate the impact of different tillage systems on grain and stover production. The approach was implemented in September, when USDA announced that matching payments from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) will be made to farmers to cover their cost of providing corn stover to Project LIBERTY, a POET LLC facility set to open in 2013 when it is expected to produce up to 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year.

REAP and BCAP investments, which are in danger of severe cutbacks in a budget-cutting frenzy underway in Congress, are the kinds of incentives and public policies needed to advance bioenergy systems and make them competitive with other energy sources that are ultimately costlier to our national security and our environment. The 25x’25 Alliance urges policy makers to review “Harnessing the Power of Biomass Residuals” and heed the report’s recommendations to help move these technologies forward.

Ongoing Growth of U.S. Renewable Energy Sector is Cause for Thanks

Tue, 11/22/2011 - 11:27pm

Thanksgiving offers the National 25x’25 Alliance the opportunity to reflect and appreciate the ongoing growth in the country’s renewable energy sector. There is still some distance to travel before achieving the vision in which America’s farms, ranches and forestlands will meet 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs by 2025. But ongoing research, advancing technology, foresighted energy policy and plain old American innovation is pushing the nation steadily towards achieving the goal and has given renewable energy advocates much to be grateful for.

We can start with the exponential growth in recent years in the production and use of non-hydropower renewable energy. Wind and biofuels consumption increased about 16 times and 8 times, respectively, between 2000 and 2010, according to recent figures from the DOE’s Energy Information Administration. Overall production of renewable energy in this country is at about 11 percent of all energy produced.

Electricity generation from wind increased from about 6 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2000 to about 95 billion kWh in 2010, as improved technology has decreased the cost of production.

Several policies have contributed to that growth in wind power, along with other renewable technologies, including federal production tax credits and grants that provide financial incentives, for which advocates continue to seek extensions and more flexible rules of implementation.

Twenty-four states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that require electricity providers to generate or acquire a certain portion of their power supply from renewable sources (another five have renewable electricity goals). And compliance with RPS policies either require or allow for the trading of renewable energy credits (RECs), which are instruments giving market participants new opportunities to transact for energy generated by renewable sources.

Biofuel growth has been driven by first-generation biofuels. In 2010, Americans consumed about 13 billion gallons of fuel ethanol, compared to less than 2 billion gallons in 2000. About 99 percent of the ethanol was added to the U.S. gasoline supply. In fact, nearly all gasoline sold in the United States contains some ethanol. While it has served its purpose and is expected to expire at the end of this year, the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), or blenders’ tax credit, has been a useful tool by providing blenders with a 45-cent-per-gallon credit for each gallon of ethanol mixed with gasoline.

Another object of appreciation from renewable energy advocates is the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) that requires that 36 billion gallons of biofuels be used in the United States per year by 2022. That number includes 16 billion gallons of advanced biofuels which will take the U.S. transportation sector into a second-, third- and fourth-generation of new, sustainable, non-petroleum fuel sources. Several states have their own renewable fuel standards or requirements.

Electric utilities are grateful for the wider array of fuel sources for their facilities. In 2010, renewable sources of energy were used to produce almost 11 percent of the 4 million gigawatthours (GW) of electricity generated in the United States, with most (7 percent) coming from hydropower, and the rest from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass sources of renewable energy.

The renewable energy sector is grateful for research that accelerates the growth and implementation of sustainable solutions to our energy needs from the land. For example, the DOE’s Joint Bioenergy Center at the Berkeley National Laboratory has demonstrated that introducing a corn gene into switchgrass, a highly touted potential feedstock for advanced biofuels, more than doubles (250 percent) the amount of starch in the plant’s cell walls. The process makes it much easier to extract targeted carbohydrates and convert them into fermentable sugars for biofuel.

And the 25x’25 Alliance, its volunteer national steering committee and its staff is grateful for the nearly 1,000 endorsing partners, from the national trade organizations to the local renewable energy entrepreneurs, and for their efforts in promoting a vision of a clean energy future that will boost our economy, enhance our national security and improve our environment.

Farm Energy Programs Preserved in Ag Appropriations Deal

Fri, 11/18/2011 - 4:08pm

Federal policy makers got it right by retaining funding for energy title programs in the 2012 appropriations “minibus” adopted by both houses Thursday. Meanwhile, there are growing indications that a farm bill framework including an energy title could be advanced to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction soon.

While the approps measure is far from perfect, that it includes energy title funding affirms the critical role farm energy programs will play in shaping America’s energy future. In addition, if House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders do, as expected, include an Energy Title in their proposal to the joint deficit reduction committee, they are demonstrating that they see the value that these programs and policies can bring to the American economy.

Unfortunately, due to unprecedented depressed economic conditions, the first generation energy programs which were authorized in the last Farm Bill passed in 2008 sustained deep cuts in the fiscal 2012 appropriations bill. It also appears that there will be a reduced amount of mandatory funding allocated for the energy programs in the 2012 farm bill under the proposal that is being crafted.

The 25x’25 Alliance is now encouraging members of the “super committee” to take the farm bill proposal submitted by leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committee and use that framework to reinforce the core functions of agriculture. The sector is not only responsible for providing an ample, affordable and safe supply of food, feed and fiber, but also fuel. Ag energy solutions produce triple bottom line benefits: they increase economic activity through the creation of new jobs; they enhance our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, much of which comes from unstable or hostile regimes; and they produce a better environment improved by cleaner fuel and energy sources. Lawmakers must ensure that resources are allocated in accordance with these priorities.

These programs are just now starting to make an impact. For example, in Kansas, farmers and rural businesses have been recipients of 141 Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants and loans totaling nearly $5 million since the program’s inception in 2003. These awards have leveraged a private sector investment of over $10 million. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program is an important tool for harvest, collection, storage and transport of existing biomass and for the establishment of dedicated bioenergy crops. USDA’s first designated BCAP project area was announced for Kansas and Missouri for the establishment of 50,000 acres of dedicated energy crops. Another project area in Kansas and Oklahoma, sponsored by Abengoa Biofuels, will grow up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass near Abengoa’s biomass conversion plant scheduled to open near Hugoton, KS, in 2013. Such investments represent key steps to breaking our dependence on fossil fuels.

The door to the vast potential of American renewable energy innovation has just been cracked and the nation is just beginning to see the results. Now is not the time to write these programs off. Even with limited resources in an era of economic austerity, the wise move is to get the most from the money available to invest. These programs have demonstrated their ability to help meet the nation’s energy, economic and social needs for years to come. In considering new farm bill proposals, members of the “super committee” should look at that innovation potential of farm energy programs and sustain, strengthen and broaden them.

The 25x’25 Alliance offers its thanks to the lawmakers who helped assure the continued life of these critical programs and to the partners and stakeholders who worked so hard to bring their importance to the attention of Congress. As renewable energy champions, we recognize that this week’s developments are only part of a much longer, ongoing conversation. In the months ahead, we will need to continue to reinforce and demonstrate the benefits of farm energy programs to both policymakers and the public in order to ensure that they remain a strong foundation for the future of farming.

Retired Military Leaders Call for 30% Reduction in U.S. Oil Consumption Over 10 Years

Thu, 11/10/2011 - 9:42pm

No special interest brings more credibility to the ongoing, decades-long debate over federal energy policy than the U.S. military. So when a group of retired military officers last week presented a report showing that a 30 percent cut in U.S. oil consumption could significantly reduce grave national security risks, it is hoped that lawmakers overcame their partisan differences and listened.

Given that the Department of Defense uses 90 percent of all energy consumed by the federal government, and the fact that a significant portion of the military’s budget is spent – and lives are risked and lost – defending oil supply lines around the world, including those from countries hostile to the United States, the standing of those calling on Congress last week for “immediate, swift and aggressive” change in policy is indisputable.

The retired officers who make up the Military Advisory Board (MAB) of the CNA not-for-profit public interest research firm presented an analysis at House and Senate briefings last week that found if America reduces its current rate of oil consumption by 30 percent and diversifies its fuel sources, all over the next 10 years, the U.S. economy would be insulated from the impact of disruptions that could otherwise bring this nation to a standstill.

The advisory board, with more than 400 years of collective military experience, points out that while the nation has suffered immediate and far-reaching oil shocks, “at today’s level of U.S. consumption, a sustained disruption would be devastating – crippling our very freedom of movement.” Worse, says retired Army Gen. Paul Kern, the board’s chairman, “Our enemies know this fact and they exploit it at will.”

The income growth in developing nations such as China and India is increasing worldwide demand for oil at an alarming rate. The MAB says its military experience shows this to be a “transitional” moment in which action must be taken to change U.S. consumption patterns, “or fight our way out of the consequences of inaction.”

CNA analyzed the potential economic impact of a future oil disruption in one critical industrial sector that is heavily dependent on petroleum: the U.S. trucking industry. Measuring the effect of four different theoretical blockages in the flow of oil, each lasting 30 days, in the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, Bab el-Mandeb, and the Panama Canal, the analysis finds that under the worst-case scenario, the U.S. would lose nearly $75 billion in GDP. But cutting current levels of U.S. oil dependence by 30 percent, the impact would be nearly zero. Oak Ridge National Laboratory found complementary results when measuring the impact of oil flow disruptions on other sectors.

MAB members underscore a long-held view among renewable energy stakeholders in their call for greater efficiency in the use of petroleum products (the 25x’25 vision cites efficiency as the option of first choice in achieving the goal of meeting 25 percent of the nation’s energy use by 2025). The analysis says the military could benefit significantly from a 30-percent reduction in U.S. oil consumption because it would generate new methods of efficiency that would translate directly to the battlefield, saving lives by decreasing dangerous battlefield fuel convoys.

Noting that the nation’s “current over-reliance on a single fuel is a weakness,” the report says the United States must increase its use of alternative fuels, including sustainable biofuels.

Echoing a longstanding call from 25x’25 and other renewable energy stakeholders, the military experts say policy makers must develop a national, cogent, dedicated and sustained energy roadmap that rises above partisan politics. “Security must trump ideology,” the analysis says, adding that “the scale of impact associated with our energy use is massive.”

Renewable energy interests acknowledge that a wide array of energy sources must be developed to meet mushrooming domestic and global energy demands. Stakeholders know that supporting a Renewable Fuels Standard, farm energy programs, DOE energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, and sustainable energy research can lead to the right energy choices. The military experts say making the right energy choices “can bring down our trade imbalance, lead to new jobs at home, launch new American-made technologies, strengthen our foreign policy hand and increase our military and foreign policy options.”

But these benefits are time-sensitive, the MAB says, warning that waiting for a convenient time to address the challenge will weaken the United States while others continue to gain strength. “The cost of inaction is too high,” concludes MAB Vice-Chair and retired naval Admiral Dennis McGinn, a member of the National 25x’25 Steering Committee. “A 30 percent reduction in oil consumption would loosen our tether to hostile states, reduce our trade deficit, and keep the money here at home to create jobs.”

The 25x’25 Alliance calls on renewable energy champions to reach out to lawmakers and urge them to look to the kind of secure energy future envisioned by military experts. That means supporting the programs, funding and other incentives that accelerate clean energy development, while rejecting those efforts that would impede the nation’s path to energy security.

Exploding Global Population Underscores Need for Renewable Energy Boom

Thu, 11/03/2011 - 12:37pm

The UN Population Division recently said our planet’s population has reached 7 billion people. That milestone has, of course, set many sustainability advocates, food organizations and global development analysts to worry that the world’s population is careening into alarming numbers.

Given the rapidity in which our numbers have increased would give most of those concerned with the state of our future some pause. The earth’s population did not reach its first one billion people until around the early 1800s. It took another 150 years to add another 1.5 billion. Then, humanity jumped another 4.5 billion in just the past 60 years. As Robert Engelman, executive director of Worldwatch Institute, recently noted, “Never before have so many animals of one species anything like our size inhabited the planet.”

The 7 billion population mark set this week is a full one billion more people than that recorded just a mere 12 years ago. And the latest forecasts have the world’s population reaching more than 9 billion people by 2050.

This week’s milestone prompted the UN Environment Program to issue a teaser for a report to be issued at a sustainable development forum involving global leaders in Rio de Janeiro next year. The early look at “Keeping Track of our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20″ says humanity is using more resources than ever before, up 40 percent from 1992 to 2005. “Unless concerted and rapid action is taken to curb and decouple resource depletion from economic growth, human activities may destroy the very environment that supports economies and sustains life,” the report says.

The UN report supports the parallel between population growth and an expanding middle class, people with greater incomes who demand more. While much of the media attention devoted to the recent population milestone has been focused on food security, the pressure on energy suppliers will grow just as intently as more people populate this earth, bringing with them more vehicles, more computers, more drain on the energy sources available.

Still, governments around the globe continue to encourage the unchecked consumption of fossil fuels, including oil and coal, which are limited in supply and create health and environmental challenges. Policies around the world seem to ignore the inevitably widening divide between the falling supply of those fuel and electricity sources and the rising demand for them.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is about to release a report that shows subsidies promoting the consumption of fossil fuels worldwide in 2009 reached $300 billion. At the same time, support for renewable energy was not quite $60 billion that year. The fact that governments are spending five times more on making fossil fuels available to the world’s population than they are on sustainable energy sources that offer low or no carbon emissions shows a shortsightedness of where the planet and its population are heading.

Renewable energy sources, including bioenergy, wind energy, solar power, hydropower and geothermal energy, are not only beneficial to the environment, but through local production, they also create new jobs and generate economic development, particularly in rural areas.

Clearly renewable energy sources should be among a wide portfolio of solutions to global energy demand that is expected to increase by as much as 50 percent over the next 40 years. But any failure to recognize the limits on today’s predominant energy sources and to promote the clean energy of tomorrow, including that available from farms, ranches and forestlands, is, in the face of an exploding world population, a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Renewable Energy Success Stories Mark a Clear Path to Clean Energy Future

Thu, 10/27/2011 - 9:04pm

While policy makers in Washington grapple with how to get the most out of limited resources in a time of severe budget austerity, the advances made in renewable energy technology due to existing policies and programs are sometimes forgotten in the heat of a pitched budget battle. There is a wide variety of renewable energy projects and developments across the country that has produced gains cited by stakeholders as points defining a path to a clean energy future.

Travel to West Texas and you will see a burgeoning wind industry that three weeks ago set a new record of 7,400 megawatts (MW) of electricity output, making up more than 15 percent of the power offered on that date by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the electric grid and deregulated market for more than 75 percent of the state. It is wind energy generation that offsets expensive fossil fuels, makes the air a little cleaner and uses virtually no water.

Meanwhile, transmission lines are being put up around the state to carry growing wind power from remote areas to cities like Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. Some analysts are projecting the $6.8 billion transmission project will bring wind’s share of the state’s electricity supply up to as much as 20,000 MW by 2013. With wind’s cost dropping over the past two years, utilities are signing more power purchase agreements in the range of 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, slightly cheaper than coal and offering more price stability than natural gas.

Nevada Solar One is a concentrated solar power plant built over 400 acres in the Mojave Desert. With a maximum capacity of 75 MW, the $266 million plant went into operation in 2007 and produces an estimated 134 million kilowatt hours annually, powering 14,000 homes and avoiding the equivalent CO2 emissions that would be produced by 20,000 cars each year.

In December, 2007, construction was finished on Idaho’s Raft River Power Plant, the first geothermal power plant in the state was finished and commercial sale of the produced electricity began in January 2008. Raft River, a binary plant that uses a 300-degree Fahrenheit resource, has a nameplate production capacity of 15.8 MW. Currently, net electrical power output is approximately 11.5 MW. Other geothermal power plants in the state, including an expansion to Raft River, are now under development.

A 300 kilowatt anaerobic digester system at Vermont’s Chaput Family Farms digests manure from the farm’s dairy herd, produces biogas and combusts the gas to generate renewable energy on a continuous basis, and provide digester effluent for use as crop fertilizer and for cow bedding material.

In L’Anse, Michigan, a power company converted a coal, oil and natural gas-fired generating station into a biomass facility, which allows the plant to utilize one of Michigan’s most plentiful renewable resources. The 20-MW (17.7-MW net) biomass-fueled electric plant, which went into commercial operation in late 2009, converts feedstocks including forest products such as woodchips, bark and fines, papermill wood residues and railroad ties.

A proliferating wood pellet industry is saving forestry jobs in Minnesota, while providing cleaner and less expensive home heating options.

All of these projects and developments are success stories telling of the extraordinary efforts and innovations by researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs that have brought new sources of energy into the American mainstream.

And there’s every reason to be excited by the short-term outlook. Technological breakthroughs in the development of solar cells and the materials used to make wind turbines are bringing down costs of energy generated from those sources to a level comparable with that from legacy electricity sources. And next-generation biofuels are soon to become “this-generation” biofuels, with three major cellulosic plants set to open in Iowa, Tennessee Kansas and Tennessee in 2013. They are among dozens of advanced biofuel facilities fast nearing production levels in the millions of gallons. In a related example of advancing renewable technology, an estimated 20,000 acres is being set contracted on farms in Kansas and Oklahoma to produce switchgrass that will be used as feedstock at the 25-million-gallon cellulosic plant being built in Hugoton, KS.

All of these projects and developments have one thing in common: they came about with the help of federal policies and funding mechanisms that encouraged private investment and created jobs. It can only be hoped that policy makers will see past the smoke of budget battles in Washington and remember the benefits to our economy, to our nation’s energy security and to the environment that come with pursuing a clean energy future.

New Farm Bill Must Retain Energy Title

Thu, 10/20/2011 - 11:41pm

This week, the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees sent a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction outlining some $23 billion in cuts to mandatory spending under the committees’ jurisdiction over the next 10 years. The two ag panels are now reportedly filling out some of the details of the proposal, with a goal of submitting those particulars to the so-called “super committee” by Nov. 1, 2011.

The latest development out of the agriculture committees is seen by many as drafting a new farm bill through the deficit-reduction process. There is no guarantee that the Joint Committee will accept the agriculture panels’ proposal, but congressional farm leaders are offering the spending cuts in an attempt to retain control over federal farm and food policy in a time of fiscal austerity.

Compounding the anxiety for many rural advocates is the lack of baseline funding for nearly 30 farm programs beyond the expiration of the current 2008 Farm Bill next year. The only thing assured is that deep spending cuts are coming, and non-baseline Farm Bill Energy Title programs are especially at risk of being terminated or defunded.

Renewable energy stakeholders are urged to join in a campaign calling on members of both agriculture committees and super committee members to strongly support agriculture-based energy programs and policies in the new farm bill. A principle reason for that support is that farm energy programs help address the overarching challenges facing Washington policy makers: the revitalization of the nation’s economy and the creation of good jobs.

There are numerous studies that all come to the same conclusion: building the clean energy economy will create millions of jobs. This growth is already happening in part due to 2008 Farm Bill clean energy investments made through innovative programs such as the Rural Energy for America Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Biorefinery Assistance Program, and the Biobased Markets Program. Those investments have, in turn, leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars from the private sector, providing significant value to U.S. farmers and the rural economy. And the jobs and industries created by the public and private investments in these programs bolster U.S. technological competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Federal investments in these programs are economically practical because demand for renewable energy products here and across the globe is on the rise. These programs help meet that demand and boost the rapid deployment of new biofuels, bioproducts and energy crops, and renewable and distributed electricity generation, as well as promote energy efficiency.

The good news is that the benefits of energy title initiatives also come at a very modest cost. Of all the programs authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, farm energy programs account for less than one percent of total outlays. With longstanding agricultural safety net programs coming under increasing budgetary pressure, these energy programs allow the rural economy to continue to grow and diversify.

The 25x’25 Alliance and other renewable energy stakeholders acknowledge that finding the right combination of cuts and spending priorities is a formidable task for congressional budget writers. Agricultural leaders also understand that farm programs will share the pain with other federal initiatives as reductions in spending are implemented.

However, the next 10 days are a critical time in which members of the two agriculture committees and the “super committee” will determine how the agricultural sector will proceed in this era of increasingly limited government support. It is critical that lawmakers get a clear grasp of the benefits of renewable energy production from America’s farms, ranches and forestlands, whether it be biofuels, biomass, wind energy, solar power, geothermal energy or hydropower.

Policy makers need to know that the energy solutions from the land provided by programs like those in the farm bill energy title help boost our national economy, enhance our energy security by reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and improve our environment by reducing our consumption of fossil fuels. Renewable energy stakeholders stand ready to work with policy makers and ensure farm policy meets those goals.

Federal Support of Clean Energy Innovation Must Continue

Thu, 10/13/2011 - 8:30pm

Federal loan guarantee programs that offer start-up companies a chance to develop energy technologies that could reduce our nation’s dependency on fossil fuels and foreign oil have recently been the target of considerable partisan criticism because of the failure of one company out of many successful firms that have received federal support.

What the critics choose to ignore is the fact that government investment has been the driving force behind many of our nation’s – and the world’s – technological advances, including the Internet, medical devices such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), and global positioning systems, to name just a few. To “throw under the bus” federal financial support for initiatives that can ultimately provide jobs and revitalize our moribund economy, enhance our national security and improve our environment is shortsightedness to the worst degree.

And while there are those who believe they can exploit the Solyndra bankruptcy as a means to attack federal support for innovative energy solutions, and by extension, renewable energy as a whole, they will find little traction to their efforts outside the Capital Beltway.

Polling done weeks after the Solyndra bankruptcy – and the DOE’s $537 million loan guarantee to the company last year – came to light shows nothing to indicate the issue has any polarizing effect among voters. Nor has it impacted positive views of clean energy broadly, or solar specifically. In dozens of focus groups held by the polling firms across the country on a wide variety of subjects, voters said they would like new jobs in their state to come from clean energy and related technology.

“Voters believe that the clean energy economy is here and is growing, and they want their state to have a part of it,” said Public Opinion Strategies, a predominately GOP polling firm, and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3), a Democrat-oriented consulting firm, in a memo detailing their findings. The positive feelings about the clean energy industry translate into high regard for the leading companies in the industry, the firms say. In fact, focus groups told interviewers after the Solyndra news story broke that they consistently believe renewable energy companies are the types of businesses that they regard most positively and trust.

Furthermore, in FM3’s California research, even a group of Republican male swing voters, who expressed deep cynicism about government, business, and most other major institutions in American life, voiced strong faith in the viability of the solar industry. And while the pollsters found these voters were quick to condemn the federal government for failing to do its due diligence in evaluating Solyndra’s business prospects, and for squandering taxpayer dollars on what they saw as a bad bet, even the most hardened conservatives among them strongly agreed that the solar industry is strong, growing, and worthy of future investment.

Federal support for solar energy can range from helping finance a billion-dollar concentrated solar energy facility in Arizona to providing $15 million in grants and loans from USDA that together will leverage $46 million in private investment to fund 462 solar projects on agricultural operations in practically every state, creating or saving nearly 2,000 jobs.

The grants and loan guarantees are being provided through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), a 2008 Farm Bill initiative that offers funds for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy-efficiency improvements.

But like its bigger loan guarantee and investment counterparts at DOE, REAP spending is under attack, having been sharply cut in the 2012 appropriations process now underway. Yet it has been shown that these programs create jobs and seed renewable resource innovation.

The polling showed that American voters who believe the government should continue to make targeted investments in clean energy companies that create jobs outnumber those who don’t by 2-1. The 25x’25 Alliance believes, as does that large majority of the American public, that policy makers have a responsibility to strengthen and fund those investment programs that give the nation its best shot of strengthening its economy and ensuring its energy security.

NRC Report on RFS Misses Some 'Real World' Biofuel Industry Advances

Thu, 10/06/2011 - 2:54pm

As soon as a report assessing the economic and environmental impacts of the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) was issued by the National Research Council (NRC) Tuesday, many questions about the validity of the report’s assumptions and the currency of its data began circulating. Everyone from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to biofuel industry leaders to advocacy groups cast doubts on the congressionally mandated study. Vilsack said the report bases its conclusions “on information that’s not as accurate as it once was.” The NRC study co-chairs acknowledge in the preface that, “our clearest conclusion is that there is very high uncertainty in the impacts we were trying to estimate.”

Another figure who brings significant credentials to this debate is Dr. Virginia Dale, the director of the Center for BioEnergy Sustainability at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and one of 16 experts on the NRC committee that crafted the report. Dale acknowledges that, like most NRC reports, the RFS study represented a compromise among the largely academic committee members, including her. But she also says there is a paucity of data on the subject, requiring the committee members to largely base their report on model projections.

Dale goes on to point out that with any scientific process, it is difficult to reach a conclusion when (a) the data are inadequate, (b) some models are applied at scales inappropriate to the situation, or (c) key processes are not included in the theories. All of these limitations, she says, are applicable to current analyses of the effects of biofuels.

Biofuels have the potential for environmental and national security benefits compared to petroleum use. But Dale acknowledges that the outcome depends on many factors, including feedstock, management practices, possible land-use changes and water availability – all variables that are site-specific and continually change with technological advancements and innovation within the industry.

And because of that variability, she said parts of the report can be misleading “if the assumptions of the analysis are not considered appropriately. Strictly speaking, this report is not a conclusion and should not be read as such but rather a report on work in progress,” she adds.

She cautions policy makers – all readers, in fact – to read the report details with care, noting that the assumptions, scales and caveats of analyses and results are critical to the interpretation and any extrapolation of the results.

Dale says model projections are not to be “believed” so much as treated as potential futures implied from a set of specified scenarios and assumptions. The environmental researcher says that while models can enhance understanding, they must be validated by empirical information. And so far, she asserts, the empirical evidence provides little, if any, support for modeled projections of land-use change.

Dale concurs with Secretary Vilsack’s assessment that “the report is not based on the most current information.” She cites as an example the failure of the report to consider the U.S. Billion Ton Update study, which details biomass feedstock potential nationwide, pointing out that, instead, outdated estimates of biomass production were used. Furthermore, she notes, the report does not include current information from bioenergy technology industries due to lack of published results and restrictions of proprietary data. Vilsack struck on a similar theme Tuesday when he said the report does not acknowledge the efforts being made in support of technological advances that can accelerate the development of the next generation of biofuels, including a series of recently announced USDA loan guarantees for advanced biofuel refineries under development in Hugoton, KS, and Emmetsburg, IA.

The 25x’25 Alliance concurs with Dr. Dale’s assertion that biofuels represent a complicated issue, but that today’s biofuel ventures must be willing to take the risks inherent in a new industry, despite many uncertainties and constraints. The eventual success of private enterprises for feedstock production, transport, conversion, delivery and use of biofuels, she says, depends on “contextual socioeconomic and environmental conditions.”

While some critics would ignore the advances the biofuels industry is making and use the NRC report to attack the RFS, the Alliance believes it’s critical to remember Dale’s conclusion about the report: “The answer to the question of what are the economic and environmental effects of biofuels is that ‘it always depends’ on a broad set of preexisting conditions, trends and available options, with no one solution being the best for all situations.”

Policy makers should continue their commitment to the federal Renewable Fuels Standard because it creates the market stability critical to creating and maintaining American jobs, helping insure U.S. energy security and improving the environment.

Policy Makers Obligated to Insure Biofuels Meet Global Energy, Environmental Goals

Thu, 09/29/2011 - 12:57pm

Reports from the European Union would suggest that policy makers there understand that there is little, if any, conclusive scientific evidence demonstrating that production of grains for renewable fuels results in indirect land use change (ILUC). A report from Reuters news service recently cited leaked minutes of a meeting between the bloc’s top energy and climate change officials who are reportedly considering a seven-year delay in the implementation of an ILUC component in the EU’s sustainability criteria for biofuels.

ILUC is cited by biofuel critics who claim that the production of grains and other crops used to make biofuels leads to the conversion of sensitive acreage elsewhere into cropland to make up for the alleged loss of food production, creating more emissions than that saved by using the biofuels originally produced.

Some governing entities, including the California Air Resources Board (CARB), bought into the concept and created rules of compliance that would have penalized a wide range of clean, sustainable fuels. But late last year, the board decided to re-evaluate the model used to assess the lifecycle GHG emissions of corn-based ethanol, a move seen as a regulatory breakthrough because the CARB regulation is likely to serve as a model that could be used by other states, regions, and even on the national level.

Also last year, the EPA factored indirect land impacts when establishing an expanded federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) in 2009. But the agency rendered the impact of ILUC negligible with forecasts of advanced technology that will significantly improve the yields of U.S. crop yields, including those grown for biofuels.

There has been some concern that the European Commission (EC), the trading bloc’s governing body, is also ready to accept a link between biofuel production and ILUC, and implement rules this fall that could disadvantage corn and soybean-based biofuels. But the most recent reports suggest that a delay may be at hand because European officials, like many of their counterparts here in the United States, acknowledge the existence of “scientific uncertainties” about the impact of ILUC.

Nothing official has yet come from the EC that would suggest leaders there are ready to put an ILUC component on the shelf while more research is done. In fact, there have been suggestions that some in European policy circles would call for a sort of “default” value to be established for ILUC that would somehow rank biofuel feedstocks based on their impact on land use.

Given the economic and environmental benefits that come with biofuels, policy makers across the globe would do well to thoroughly investigate the questionable claims that first-generation biofuel production negatively impacts sensitive lands in distant countries.

In Europe, taking ILUC into account in applying the EC’s Renewable Energy Directive setting renewable fuel standards across the continent is a move that could lead to a step back from the EU target of deriving 10 percent of transport fuel from renewable energy by 2020. Such a setback would not only damage investments in current biofuels, but also discourage investment in advanced biofuel technology that could provide even greater economic and environmental benefits.

The delay in implementing ILUC reportedly discussed by EC Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger and Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard back in July does not come in a vacuum devoid of evidence diminishing the validity of allegations that biofuel production causes ILUC. There has been broad opposition to implementing ILUC criteria dating back more than two years. Research from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows “minimal to zero indirect land use change was induced by use of corn for ethanol over the last decade.” More recently, a Michigan State University study published earlier this summer could find no significant correlation between U.S. biofuel production and cropland changes elsewhere.

Policy makers around the globe should look at the broader goal of accelerating renewable energy markets to meet the world’s growing energy needs. That also requires a careful and thorough review of previous ILUC assumptions. If unfairly implemented, the ILUC concept could place an unnecessary burden on producers, despite technological advances that result in greater feedstock and biofuel production efficiencies. World leaders must determine what is reasonable and necessary to insure biofuels provide the greatest energy security, economic and environmental benefits.

Pursuit of 25x'25 Renewable Will Generate Millions of New Jobs

Thu, 09/22/2011 - 12:40pm

While partisan debate rages in Washington over the means needed to set the United States on the path to economic recovery, congressional members on both sides of the aisle agree that jobs and job creation are essential to revitalizing the U.S. economy.

This week, the 25x’25 Alliance released a report from the University of Tennessee’s Bio-Based Energy Analysis Group demonstrating that millions of new jobs could be created over the next 15 years by pursuing the 25x’25 clean energy goal. 25% Renewable Energy for the United States by 2025: An Analysis on Jobs Created By Meeting the Goal says that pursuing the 25x’25 goal generates economic activity that creates millions of new jobs by growing and harvesting renewable energy feedstocks; harnessing the sun, wind, water, and heat from the earth; purchasing inputs; adding value to those inputs and supplying the energy produced. The jobs would be widespread throughout the United States, with rural areas benefiting due to renewable energy-related economic activity.

Alliance leaders were in Washington this week meeting with policy makers on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, reinforcing the message that renewable energy resources and a 25x’25 clean energy future offer the nation a triple bottom line of energy security, environmental benefits and economic recovery. 25x’25 leaders are reminding elected officials that as they make short- and long-term budget decisions, it is critical that they protect and strengthen funding mechanisms and foundational federal programs – including Farm Bill Energy Title programs and the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy initiative – that allow a still-evolving renewable energy sector to reach its full potential.

Here’s what’s at stake: The Tennessee study shows that pursuing the 25x’25 clean energy goal – meeting 25 percent of all energy needs with renewables by 2025 – will generate an estimated $208 billion in new economic activity in 2015, which, in turn, can create 1.4 million new jobs in just four years. Carrying out the string, the study says that an anticipated $411 billion in economic activity generated in 2020 can create 2.9 million new jobs. By the time the nation reaches the goal in 2025, an estimated $646 billion in new economic activity will create 4.7 million new jobs.

According to the study, all states are poised to gain jobs from the development of renewable energy, with some of the biggest beneficiaries including Missouri (240,800), Illinois (201,000), Iowa (196,300), Nebraska (161,500), Texas (159,000), Tennessee (155,700), Kentucky (148,500), Kansas (125,200), Minnesota (124,600), Oklahoma (122,500), Arkansas (109,200), Indiana (106,400), Virginia (85,000), Mississippi (84,500), and West Virginia (75,800).

Furthermore, the total addition to net farm income could reach $180 billion by 2025, as the market rewards growers for producing alternative energy and enhancing our national security. In 2025 alone, net farm income would increase by $37 billion, when compared with USDA baseline extended projections.

Researchers say the production of 15.45 quads of energy from biomass could replace the growing demand for gasoline, natural gas, diesel, and/or coal generated electricity. In addition, nearly 7 quads of electricity could be generated from solar and wind resources under the 25x’25 scenario. Contributions from America’s farms, forests and ranches could result in the production of 87.2 billion gallons of biofuels annually, which has the potential to decrease gasoline consumption by 59 billion gallons (based on Btu content) in 2025, the study shows.

The report underscores the need for appropriate public policy support and funding to maximize the economic benefits that come from our nation’s vast sustainable resources and achieving a clean, 25x’25 renewable energy future. The 25x’25 Alliance calls on all stakeholders to take this report and the information it offers, and engage with elected officials, policy makers, partners and any other individuals or groups who want a clean energy future. By helping share the message detailing the benefits of 25x’25, stakeholders can help our nation become stronger, more economically secure and environmentally sound.

Political Gamesmanship Diverts U.S. from Path to Clean Energy Goals

Thu, 09/15/2011 - 10:24pm

Attacks in Congress on the DOE’s 2009 award of a $535 million loan guarantee to a California solar manufacturing firm that declared bankruptcy last month seem now to be taking on the appearance of an assault on the overall efforts to advance green energy. There is an almost hysterical quality to the rhetoric that has been wielded by lawmakers who register trumped up indignation over the administration’s attempts to move this country into a clean energy economy. Lost in this political gamesmanship over the difficulties experienced by a single firm is the need to focus on policies, funding and, yes, loan guarantees that can produce a triple bottom line: energy security, environmental benefits and economic recovery.

There is no question that the financial collapse of Solyndra has raised questions about the process used in evaluating and approving federal loan guarantees for the solar start up. While the DOE says unforeseen economic factors contributed to a drop in silicon prices and undermined the economic advantages Solyndra said its new solar technology could provide, there are many questions about the selection process that make this review appropriate and necessary to provide valuable lessons for future loan guarantees.

Some lawmakers, however, with the backing of traditional energy interests, are exploiting this unfortunate development for political reasons and are using the Solyndra case to paint the entire renewable energy loan guarantee program as a failure. The program is only beginning to find its legs after an infusion of government investment two years ago and to suggest at this point and time, on the basis of a setback experienced by a single loan guarantee beneficiary (the Solyndra loan represents less than two percent of the loans guaranteed under the DOE program), that government loan guarantees for new energy projects do not work is shortsighted, fraught with alarmism and harmful to U.S. energy interests.

The White House rightfully makes the case that while new jobs created by the program may only number in the thousands, it is inaccurate, not to mention premature, to judge all loan guarantees as ineffective. Administration officials note that the loan guarantees have saved tens of thousands of jobs by supporting facility refurbishments and retrofitting that make industries more competitive on the global market.

Even in a time of fiscal restraint, those with vision understand the importance of the federal government’s support of projects that, by their nature as developers of emerging technology, present a risk. But it is a risk that is appropriate for the government to assume in backing new technologies that offer real promise for delivering significant public benefits, particularly economic ones.

For some to suggest that as a result of Solyndra the federal government should abandon its role of stimulating technology and job development is extreme and irresponsible. Would those who are pushing this negativity have applied the same argument to federal support for deep water oil extraction following the BP’s mega-disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; or “clean coal” technology in the wake of a fatal mine collapse?

Rather than abandoning support for those programs that can lead to a clean energy future and help regain the United States’ lead in the global economy, Congress should investigate any program shortfalls, make the appropriate reforms to strengthen and improve the loan guarantee process and effectiveness, then move forward.

Congress would do well to heed the calling of a group of America’s top business executives, including Bill Gates, who this week released a new report detailing the case for government investment in research to produce long-term energy breakthroughs. These captains of industry argue that even in times of budget austerity, such investments are crucial to U.S. economic competitiveness and to the development of clean, affordable, and secure supplies of energy.

The goals cited by the Gates’ group represent the very reason the federal government has DOE loan guarantee programs in the first place. America’s energy future is at risk. The production of oil for power and fuel has either hit, or is nearing, its peak, signaling an end to the world’s viable reserves in the not too distant future. The United States is still locked in costly wars that have as much to do with oil as they do with national security. Oil exports continue to dominate U.S. supplies, while making the country ever vulnerable to hostile regimes and unstable supplies. And high energy prices continue to dampen our recovery.

Government support of the pursuit of clean energy technology is smart and forward-thinking. Congress should not let a single financial setback deter this nation from achieving its economic, environmental and energy security goals. Lawmakers need to tone down the rhetoric, put aside the gamesmanship and focus on restoring this country to its place as a global economic leader.

Related Links

These links may be helpful in finding more information about sustainability, clean energy, and local agriculture.

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