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Time for an aggressive renewable fuels policy

By John Stencel

As Middle Eastern tensions escalate and allies in the U.S. war on terror seem less than committed, it is time to again reexamine U.S. energy policy.

Unfortunately, it is only in times of worldwide unrest—more specifically, when prices at the pump spike—that there is any talk of developing alternative fuel sources.

We have all been told about long-term environmental problems associated with burning petroleum fuels. In addition, those living in the Denver area are acquainted with the ugly and health compromising pollution created by use of gas and oil. Lastly, there is the very real possibility that further unrest in oil producing countries could abruptly shut off the majority of our petroleum imports.

For these reasons, U.S. reliance on foreign oil for the vast majority of its energy needs is foolhardy. Like employees of Enron learned, putting all one’s eggs in a single basket is very risky, particularly when that basket is embroiled in political turmoil. Instead, we need to turn to our domestic resources for energy generation. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, April 8-9, cosponsored a seminar along with the state of Colorado to explore the opportunities for electrical generation from wind. Generation of energy from wind is currently competitive in price with other types of electrical generation, and as technology improves, it will likely become even more efficient. Other types of renewable fuels include biomass energy production, which comes from manure, and ethanol fuel, which is made from grains.

Wind, biomass, and ethanol production are environmentally friendly and produce little or no pollution. In addition, these energy sources are here at home, and we have an unlimited supply. Another plus in these types of energy production is that they are mostly dependent upon resources from rural areas. Agricultural producers and the rural communities they support are very much in need of this economic opportunity!

Sounds great, so what is the delay?

Over the past decade, lip service has been given to the goal of renewable energy development, and some tax incentives are offered to those who invested in renewable energy systems. However, the United States is in desperate need of an aggressive, comprehensive program to develop renewable fuel sources and keep these industries going.

For example, ethanol production is profitable when corn prices are low, but investors are hesitant to make long-term commitments because they know that if corn prices go up, ethanol is no longer competitive with fossil fuels. As a nation, we need to support policies that will put grain in reserve to keep the ethanol industry going during times of higher grain prices. We need aggressive tax and other incentives, and, yes, even requirements on the percentage of energy from renewable sources.

Being considered currently by the Colorado Legislature is a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would require by 2010 that 10 percent of all fuel used be from renewable sources. Considering that less than one-tenth of 1 percent currently comes from renewable sources, this would be a good start.

The U.S. Senate bill now being debated includes a mandate that would by 2012, triple renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel.

As Americans concerned with a better quality of life and greater energy security, we should not hesitate to support these and other energy policies that aggressively change the structure of U.S. energy production and use.