The overriding theme from speakers at the Midwest Ag Energy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, on Tuesday was that the United States is on the brink of the greatest transition in several generations. They focused on the idea that the nation's energy problems will ultimately be solved at the regional and local level.
Kickoff speaker was Rod Nilsestuen, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. He pointed out that "at long last the nation has recognized this (solving the energy crisis) is critical for the future of our nation." He said it is significant that six Midwest governors recently signed a pact to cut carbon pollution 60-80%. "They charted a new energy course for the Midwest region," he noted. "In addition to being the Corn Belt, we can be the bio-belt," he declared.
"The quest for a sustainable energy program is much more important that going to the moon was 25 years ago," said Randy Udall, son of the late Arizona U.S. Rep. Morris Udall. "Even at today's prices, energy is still extraordinarily inexpensive in the United States. New energy policy won't just focus on renewable energy it will also focus on wide dispersal of ownership so that innovation and competition can produce new sources of energy more rapidly and more efficiently."
Udall emphasized, however, that fuels such as hydrogen, which takes an enormous amount of energy to produce, won't play a role in the future. "Even corn ethanol, which is currently expanding in production around the Midwest, produces two units of energy for every unit required to produce the fuel." Wind energy, he said, provides a return of 30 to one.
David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Self Reliance, and the author of "Driving Our Way to Energy Independence, said "Congress has mandated a six-fold increase in bio fuels, two thirds of which will be produced using a technology that has not yet been developed and a feedstock that has not yet been identified.
"The United States can produce more biofuels from corn and crop waste, but can it produce it better? Now is the time to ask that question as the nation races to meet those mandates, provide energy security for the nation, and wrestles with new energy production that reduces greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global warming," he said.
"If the forces of this production are locally owned," Morris added, "the benefit to the economy of local communities is 20% higher. If the investment in these facilities is locally owned, they're politically easier to build -- and the investments are long term.
"Wall Street is now involved,'' he continued. "So investment policies based solely on tax investment credits, by their nature, attract absentee owners looking for ways to reduce their taxes – and people who maximize their value by investing, then selling, the assets.
"There are other ways Congress can create incentives and subsidies to build biofuels systems other than tax breaks that will have far more economic benefit to far more people," he said.
The numbers – and the potential – are staggering, he added. "If the United States builds enough biofuel plants to produce 20 billion gallons of ethanol fuel, policies to create local ownership could produce as many as 30,000 owners, nearly the equivalent of the number of the nation's full-time grain farmers."
The conference, called "Next Generation Ag Energy -- Policies to Advance Regional Growth'' -- continues through Wednesday.