Biden Calls for Energy’s “Apollo Project”

biden.jpgDemocratic presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware) has unveiled a five-year, $50 billion energy plan akin to the Apollo project that put men on the moon during a campaign stop in Iowa.

This story in the Des Moines Register says Biden’s plan will use a combination of alternative energy production and conservation:

“The innovative capacity of the United States of America is so awesome that, I predict in the next 10 years we will once again be in circles where you’ll have no less light, no less heat, no less comfort in automobiles, but we’re going to see technology bloom in my administration,” he said.

Here are some key points to Biden’s plan:

• Increase fuel efficiency and use of alternative fuels Biden proposes raising fuel economy standards by one mile per gallon each year and investing in new technology such as lithium ion batteries which fuel many plug-in hybrid vehicles. He proposes requiring new vehicles to be flex-fuel capable and requiring gas station chains to sell alternative fuels.

• Invest in new energy technology

• Expand use of renewable energy

• Mandating that federal government buildings be more energy efficient and requiring the government to purchase 10 percent renewable electricity by 2010.

• Encourage Amercans to use energy efficiently

• Create “green jobs” in areas of developing alternative energy

Biofuel Makers Want Changes to Farm Credit Rules

Leaders in Iowa’s renewable energy field are asking Congressional leaders to change federal law so Farm Credit would be allowed to make loans to build ethanol and biodiesel plants that do not have a majority of farmer-stockholders as owners.

harkin.jpgThis story in Wallaces Farmer says they’ve sent a letter to both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators, Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, and to other senators asking for support of the change to Farm Credit’s lending authority because of the problems expanding the renewable fuels industry and maintaining its profitability. The new farm bill, currently under debate, has an amendment with the change:grassley.jpg

The current economic climate is challenging, to say the least,” says Sam Cogdill, president of Amaizing Energy LLC, an ethanol plant at Denison in western Iowa. He is one of eight people representing ethanol and biodiesel plants across the state who signed the letter.

“We understand the struggles of expanding the ethanol and biodiesel industry and trying to keep it profitable in changing economic times,” he adds. “Rising input costs and other factors are creating increasingly smaller margins for ethanol and biodiesel producers.”

But bankers are balking at the idea:

The Farm Credit System was created under a federal charter years ago and operates as a cooperative. “As a government-sponsored lender, they have certain advantages we don’t have,” says Jim Schipper, president of American State Bank at Osceola and current chairman of the Iowa Bankers Association.

The Farm Credit System has preferential tax treatment and access to funding at interest rates a commercial bank is not eligible to get. “That’s fine as long as Farm Credit lenders are within their mission–providing credit to farmers,” says Schipper. “But this expanded horizons idea goes way beyond that. If they want to finance enterprises that are not farmer-owned projects, then they should have to discontinue their federal support.”

Schipper goes on to point out that guys such as Bill Gates, who owns one-fourth of Pacific Ethanol, would be eligible for the Farm Credit loans if the change happens.

Candidates Vye for Iowa Biodiesel Vote

clinton.jpgPresidential candidates Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) and John McCain (R-Arizona) made separate stops at two Renewable Energy Group biodiesel facilities during their campaigns in Iowa today.

mccain-bus.jpgClinton toured the 30-million gallon REG network biodiesel production facility in Newton, while McCain attended the ribbon-cutting of the new REG headquarters in Ames. The fact that two national candidates are pushing biodiesel is a welcome sight to the National Biodiesel Board:

“These two visits in the same day exemplify the bipartisan recognition of biodiesel’s many benefits, ranging from economic development to energy security to climate change,” said Darryl Brinkmann, who serves as Chairman of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) and spoke at the event. “The NBB applauds efforts to increase public awareness of the many benefits associated with expanded biodiesel production and use.”

Keep in mind, though, that neither one has been a great advocate of biofuels when it really counted: during their votes in the U.S. Senate. Back on June 5th, I told you about McCain’s flip-flopping ways when it comes to alternative energy with this from a UPI article:

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., skipped the Iowa caucuses, perhaps sensing that, among other things, his opposition to ethanol subsidies would not go over well in a corn-growing state like Iowa.

Seven years later, he is crisscrossing the country again to win support for his bid to become the Republican presidential nominee, and this time his route includes stops in Iowa.

The article points out that in a speech in Virginia in April McCain said that while he would encourage the growth of ethanol infrastructure, he still won’t sign off on government subsidies.

Clinton is a bit of a fair-weathered friend of biofuels as well, as I pointed out in a July 24th post from this Newsday article:

At one time, Clinton stood squarely with ethanol’s opponents, and voted several times against ethanol bills.

When the Senate last took up ethanol-related legislation in 2005, the former first lady unsuccessfully opposed requiring refiners to boost their use of renewable fuels and the 51-cent tax credit.

Previously, she had warned that requiring added ethanol would bring higher gasoline prices and environmental risks.

“We are providing a single industry with a guaranteed market for its products — subsidies on top of subsidies on top of subsidies and, on top of that, protection from liability,” she said during an April 2002 Senate energy bill debate. “What a sweetheart deal.”

So let’s see where both these candidates REALLY stand when the Iowa Caucuses are over.

Legislation Would Increase RFS Without Energy Bill

Concerns about a languishing energy bill in Congress are motivating Senators to take action that would increase the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) even without it.

U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) have introduced legislation called the Renewable Fuels Strategy Act of 2007 that contains several provisions including a larger Renewable Fuels Standard of 36 billion gallons of annual renewable fuel use by 2022.

ACEThe 20th annual American Coalition for Ethanol praised the act, according to Executive Vice President Brian Jennings, “A comprehensive approach to the production, distribution, and consumption of ethanol is absolutely crucial to advancing this country’s energy situation from its current state to a more positive, diversified future.”

The bill also calls for increased production of Flexible Fuel Vehicles and expanded renewable fuels infrastructure, including an increase in the tax credit from 30% to 50%. The infrastructure provisions apply to E85 pumps, but also to Blender Pumps, which dispense mid-level ethanol blends between 10% and 85%.

The Renewable Fuels Strategy Act is co-sponsored by Senators Lugar (R-IN), Cantwell (D-WA), Craig (R-ID), Johnson (D-SD), McCaskill (D-MO), and Klobuchar (D-MN).

In addition, Senators Domenici (R-NM), Nelson (D-NE), Grassley (R-IA) and Thune (R-SD), introduced a Renewable Fuels Standard amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill that specifically calls for the production of 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by the year 2022.

Senators Urge Consideration of Higher Ethanol Blends

ThuneSenator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) led a bi-partisan group of Senators in writing a letter to the President last week urging him to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to approve higher blends of ethanol in commercial gasoline. The current maximum blend for non-flex fuel vehicles is 10% ethanol.

“The current 10% standard, or blend wall, will soon impact production capacity and could be very harmful to the ethanol industry in South Dakota and across the country,” said Thune. “By increasing the percentage of ethanol in gasoline, we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and make renewable fuels a key component of our nation’s energy policy.”

GrassleyGrassley said, “With consideration of a new farm bill as well as a new energy bill well underway, ethanol and renewable fuels are at the forefront of the discussion. And, while we’ve seen a tremendous jump in knowledge, promotion and usage of renewable fuels, there remain very real barriers. In the absence of widespread E85 use at this time, it’s important to ensure a market for today’s ethanol production.”

The Senate version of the 2007 Farm Bill is scheduled for floor debate this week. Senator Thune successfully inserted into the Senate 2007 Farm Bill a study of the E10 blend wall and a “Sense of the Senate” resolution directing the federal government to approve higher blends of ethanol after the successful completion of the appropriate studies.

Arming the Military with E85

EPIC educational forum on E85 Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas has a vested interest in E85 and flex-fuel vehicles. The Combined Arms Center will soon have to be operating its fleet of more than 200 vehicles on E85. That’s in compliance with the executive order President Bush signed in January of this year. John Tirpak, Traffic Manager at Ft. Leavenworth, came to the Ethanol and Promotion Information Council’s educational event on E85 in Kansas City to learn how the military facility can fuel up with E85.

You can listen to my interview with John here:

Georgia Considers Ethanol Blend Changes

Tommy IrvinGeorgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin is holding a couple of town hall meetings later this month to listen to comments regarding updating Georgia’s fuel standards for ethanol blends.

A recent article in Florida Today noted that state officials in Georgia and other Southeastern states, including Florida, are moving to alter fuel-quality standards that have discouraged refiners from adding ethanol to gasoline sold in the region.

Agriculture departments typically set the gasoline rules, and most of them in the Southeast — including in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee — are taking steps to ease their rules.

Standards can be relaxed without harming engine performance, officials say, and adding ethanol to gasoline could save motorists money.

A gallon of ethanol is about 40 to 45 cents cheaper than a gallon of gasoline in the region, which translates to several pennies cheaper at the pump for a typical gasoline-ethanol blend.

“That’s our goal. Give them a quality product, save a few dollars and be patriotic,” said Tommy Irvin, Georgia’s agriculture commissioner.

Georgia’s town hall meetings on the issue are scheduled for November 27 in Atlanta and November 29 in Tifton.

Ag Secretary Nominee Has Biofuels Credentials

Schafer BushIn his nomination of former North Dakota governor Ed Schafer as Secretary of Agriculture on Wednesday, President Bush noted his support of domestic fuel.

“Ed Schafer is the right choice to fill this post. He was a leader on agricultural issues during his eight years as the governor of North Dakota,” Bush said. “He oversaw the development of the state’s agricultural biofuels industry. He helped families recover from natural disasters — including drought, fires and floods. And he pioneered innovative programs to increase economic opportunity in rural communities.”

Schafer served as Governor of North Dakota from 1992 to 2000. He is nominated to replace Mike Johanns who resigned from the position last month to run for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska.

Wisconsin Budget Gains Biodiesel Group’s Praise

wba_field1thumbnail.jpgIt took a lot longer than anticipated, but lawmakers in Wisconsin have finally reached agreement on that state’s budget… and the Wisconsin Biodiesel Association (WBA) says its $26 million renewable energy package will help make the state competitive in the biodiesel business.

This story in Wisconsin Ag Connection says the WBA is applauding the approval of the biodiesel measures in the bill, including biodiesel distribution incentives, a $4 million grant to develop a soybean crushing facility, and a biodiesel producers’ state income tax credit:

“We are thrilled that the Legislature has made such a significant commitment to the biodiesel industry in Wisconsin,” said John Blaska, president of the Landmark Services Cooperative Board of Directors. “Thanks to the dedication of Governor Doyle and the efforts of State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, State Rep. Brett Davis, and State Sen. Bob Jauch, we are now one significant step closer to bringing Wisconsin’s first soybean crushing facility to Evansville.”

Landmark recently announced it will match any investment made by the state toward a soybean crushing facility in Evansville, up to $4 million. The addition of a soybean crushing plant will add substantial value to the state’s agricultural endeavors by cutting transportation costs and increasing soybean production, potentially bringing Wisconsin an additional $235 million in revenue and savings.

WSA Director Bob Karls says Wisconsin soybean farmers have been working for 15 years to bring a soybean processing facility to the state. While Wisconsin is the 13th largest soybean producer in the country, it is the only one of these states without its own soybean processing facility.

“It is difficult to envision a more concrete example of the way in which Governor Doyle’s pursuit of a renewable energy bio-industry could create more positive economic impact for the state,” said Jeff Pieterick, president of the Wisconsin Biodiesel Association. “The passage of this renewable energy package provides substantial infrastructure that supports the bottom line for agricultural producers throughout Wisconsin.”

U.S. Army Takes a Look at Hydrogen

Chevron Technology VenturesThe Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, a department of the U.S. Army, is working with executives from Chevron Technology Ventures and the Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center to see how the military could use hydrogen fuel technology and how the technology operates in a real-world setting. The joint-project will take place at the Selfridge Air National Guard (SANG) Base in Michigan, which is home to a state-of-the-art hydrogen energy station evaluation and demonstration program.

Through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA), the U.S. Army, CTV and Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center collaborated to implement this cold weather test site for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Controlled Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Program.

Hyundai-Kia America Technical CenterLocated on the SANG Base, the hydrogen station will power a fleet of five Hyundai Tucson fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) that will be used by the Army and National Guard for mission-related purposes.

“Collaborating with the military on this project will enhance our research into hydrogen as a transportation fuel. Their significant experience in advanced technology makes them a superb partner,” said Dana Flanders, president of Chevron Technology Ventures.

The U.S. Army The Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering CenterThe hydrogen station uses Chevron’s proprietary advanced steam methane reforming technology to produce about 40 kilograms of hydrogen per day, enough to supply up to 10 fuel cell vehicles.

This is the fifth hydrogen demonstration station commissioned by Chevron Technology Ventures. Other stations are located in California and Florida, and fuel buses and automobiles used in real-world applications. Each Chevron Hydrogen energy station features a different production technology so that project participants can assess and determine the benefits of various production systems.

SD Democrat Calls Ethanol Critics “Misguided”

Herseth SandlinA South Dakota congressional representative supports increasing the Renewable Fuels Standard in the energy bill and fires back at critics of ethanol.

According to an article in the Daily Republic, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin says opponents of the biofuel industry are using “misguided and inaccurate” claims in an attempt to derail the growth of renewable fuels.

While discussing her hopes for the pending energy bill, Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., this week said “traditional opponents of biofuels have once again set their sights on the renewable fuels industry.”

“… They are using misguided and inaccurate arguments in an attempt to derail aggressive provisions for the future of home-grown renewable fuels like ethanol,” Herseth Sandlin said.

Herseth Sandlin supports raising the RFS to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

Soybean Growers Concerned About Biodiesel Support Funding

asa_logo.jpgThe American Soybean Association (ASA) is raising concerns about the level of government funding to alternative energy sources, particularly biodiesel, in the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill.

This article from Grainnet.com says provisions in the energy portion of the bill are among the group’s concerns:

In the Energy Title, ASA is very concerned with the level of funding provided for payments to domestic biodiesel producers under the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels.

Biodiesel producers have seen prices for their feedstocks, including soybean oil, more than double in the past year as aggressive policies to raise ethanol production have shifted nearly 12 million acres from soybeans to corn this year.

As a result of higher feedstock costs, the biodiesel tax credit is not sufficient to ensure competitiveness of domestic biodiesel in the U.S. market.

“An additional payment is essential to ensure the viability of our fledgling domestic biodiesel industry in the current volatile energy market,” [ASA President John] Hoffman said.

Unfortunately, the funding level provided in the proposed bill would not allow a payment sufficient to make domestic biodiesel competitive.

ASA is also calling for payments for all biodiesel production, not just incremental production. The group also says one proposal in the bill that would make biodiesel producers choose between biodiesel payments under the Bioenergy Program and the small biodiesel producer tax credit would serve as a disincentive for beginning biodiesel producers.

Rockers, Biofuel Makers Appeal to Congress

The U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence will hear from biofuel producers, environmentalists, and even some music stars when it holds a hearing entitled “The Grass is Greener: The Future of Biofuels,” tomorrow morning (Wednesday, October 24th) at 9:30 EDT in Washington, D.C.

adamgardner.jpgAmong those testifying before Rep. Edward J. Markey’s (D-Massachusetts) committee, musician Adam Gardner (left) of the band Guster… founder of the non-profit group “Reverb” which has helped other bands, including the Barenaked Ladies, the Dave Matthews Band, Alanis Morrisette, John Mayer, Norah Jones, The Fray, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers green up their tours.

This website has been set up so you can hear live, streaming audio of the event. Remember, that’s Wednesday morning, October 24th (tomorrow) at 9:30 EDT.

Check it out!

Energy and Farm Bill Updates

ACEEthanol interests are hoping that Congress might finally get the energy bill into conference committee this week.

Brian Jennings with the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) says, “It sounds like Democrats and Republicans are beginning to work out some of the political differences and procedural differences they had in moving forward,” Jennings says. “I would predict that hopefully this week we will have an agreement to move forward on a bi-partisan, bi-cameral conference.”

There are some major differences to be worked out. For one, the House does not have the Renewable Fuel Standard that is present in the Senate bill. The Renewable Fuel Standard is a major goal of many in Congress. Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Barack Obama, D-Ill., have introduced stand-alone legislation that would immediately update the Renewable Fuels Standard and require three-billion gallons of biofuels from cellulosic sources.

John ThuneMeanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee is finally scheduled to mark up a farm bill Wednesday morning, with chairman Tom Harkin announcing agreement on structure last week.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) says the Senate version of the farm bill will include his legislation designed to promote the production of cellulosic ethanol produced from switchgrass, other native grasses and biomass feedstocks such as wood chips. Thune’s cellulosic ethanol bill, officially known as the Biofuels Innovation Program (BIP), was introduced in May.

Thune’s legislation includes cost-sharing for establishing energy-dedicated crops and paying competitive rent until the energy dedicated crops are sold. The legislation also encourages feedstock production by providing per-ton payments to producers of biomass, such as corn cobs, perennial grasses, and wood chips.

Oregon Setting Standards for Ethanol Production

Do you know what is one of the best things about blog-style news sites? It gives the editors the freedom to not only spark feedback from readers, but to share that feedback with the rest of the site’s subscribers. One subscriber, Tim, pointed out the how ethanol is moving forward in Oregon. I thought that both what he found and what he had to say are every bit of post worthy:

What do democratic Oregon Governor Kulongoski, republican Congressman Greg Walden, an Eastern Oregon Wheat farmer and a barge operator have in common? They were all among the 500 people in Boardman, Oregon on October 5th celebrating the grand opening of Pacific Ethanol’s state-of-the-art biorefinery, Oregon’s first opportunity to produce its own motor fuel. This video shows how renewable fuels are breaking down old political barriers between urban and rural America.

Oregon is doing renewable fuels right–having passed a landmark legislative package that ensures market access; creates incentives for local feedstocks; and encourages efficient production and investment in new technology. The policy is already translating into on-the-ground investment. Oregon provides a great model for other states across the country looking to reap the economic and environmental benefits of renewable fuels.