By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq
The recent release of the Clean Power Plan has started to spawn community gatherings and agency presentations. Stakeholders are being called upon to help inform a regulatory process which will produce a custom Minnesota plan aimed at further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, already some agency officials and community leaders are redefining what constitutes renewable energy.
In the most recent gathering I attended solar gardens was the focal point. Why not? Photovoltaic systems can be used to capture solar energy and convert it into electricity that can be used to, for example, light and power our homes, schools and places of work.
Another renewable that received some attention was wind energy conversion systems. Sure, wind turbines connected to generators capture another form of solar energy and convert it into electricity which we use throughout our communities.
And where are biofuels in the presentation? Most of us use biofuels, such as ethanol, to power the vehicles which move us from place-to-place. As we know, plants capture and use solar energy which can be converted into ethanol.
One might have concluded from the one-way communication event that it was geared toward an urban audience who could only relate to community solar gardens rather than farmers and farming. But then, during what was supposed to be the lighter comedic part of the program, the underlying reason for excluding biofuels became evident: ethanol was characterized as big industry, evil and on par with the dirty, carbon intensive tar sands.
This type of misinformation, even when veiled as comedy, carries the risk of undermining efforts for us as a community and state to make further progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Interestingly, the very benefits the urban community leaders seek from solar gardens are those offered by ethanol:
- Locally produced (biofuels are made from renewable ingredients grown in Minnesota),
- More local control over energy supply (twenty-one biofuel producers are located in Minnesota),
- Economic development (in 2014 Minnesota’s ethanol producers generated $7.6 billion in gross sales for Minnesota businesses and supported 18,630 full time jobs. This in turn generated $1.74 billion in household income in Minnesota as well as $132 million to state and local government tax rolls. And the need for biofuels is growing.)
- Cleaner air (ethanol reduces toxic tailpipe emissions) and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (E10 already displaces approximately 750,000 metric tons annually and greater availability of E15 can increase that number to 1.07 million metric tons). Check out this short video for more details.
While some might like to redefine renewable so as to exclude biofuels, federal and state law is clear that biofuels are to be counted among the renewables.
The Renewable Fuel Standard, for instance, states:
Renewable fuel is “fuel that is produced from renewable biomass and that is used to replace or reduce the quantity of fossil fuel present in a transportation fuel.” Whether ethanol is produced from renewable corn starch, stover or other biomass, it is indeed a renewable. The law makes this clear. And it should be self-evident that growing plant material is renewable. After all, where do the raw ingredients come from to make the things that we use in our daily lives or that power our vehicles? One source of supply are those ingredients which are grown.
We at the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association will continue to do our part to inform community leaders and agency officials about the increasing role that biofuels, such as ethanol, can play in boosting the economy, enhancing energy security, saving consumers money at the fuel dispenser and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We also ask that you help us. I invite you to share this video with your colleagues and community leaders. Let’s continue the dialogue and remind people that biofuels are indeed renewable and that renewable biofuels hold the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right here, right now.