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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Renewable energy policies would benefit farmers

From a column by Margaret Krome in The Capital Times:

President Obama toured renewable energy research facilities recently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He wanted to drive home the point that homegrown, low-carbon energy sources and energy conservation strategies are crucial to steer the planet toward a safer climate and the nation toward greater energy security. In addition, policy based on renewable energy and conservation creates jobs.

The president could just as well have toured Wisconsin to make his point. Wisconsin's researchers are forging ahead on many fronts, such as ways to grow biomass crops in a sustainable manner; economically viable processes to convert biomass into transportation fuels; and the siting, processing, and transportation protocols associated with using biomass for heat and power. Given the state's large biomass capacity in forests and crops like switchgrass, researchers are making an investment in the state's future.

But more is happening. The Legislature will soon consider recommendations from the Governor's Global Warming Task Force, some of which offer opportunities for new jobs across the state, in small towns as well as cities. Inevitably, vested interests always fight even obviously necessary change. So it should surprise nobody when coal companies and others who depend on fossil fuels mount campaigns to oppose renewable energy policies. But many objections are borne of fear and misinformation.

For example, some farm groups express concerns about the low carbon fuel standard, a policy that is actually likely to benefit Wisconsin's farmers. This policy uses a market mechanism to require fuel providers to reduce the total carbon content of fuels sold in the state. Rather than deprive farmers of fuels currently available, it would diversify farmers' fuel options and reduce volatility. And because the state does not produce fossil fuels but does produce biomass-based energy, this policy plays to the state's agricultural strengths.

Another policy being considered that supports farmers and rural communities as well as municipalities is the renewable energy buyback program. To meet demand for renewable energy, Wisconsin needs many people to become small-scale renewable energy producers. Some have already done so by installing wind turbines, methane digesters, or solar panels and selling the extra energy back into the grid. But the amount these small-scale producers get paid varies greatly, often making that energy unprofitable to produce.

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