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Solution to Energy Independence Is At Local Level
Frank Holdmeyer, Wisconsin Agriculturalist
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.
..."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.
(6 February 2008)
Record Financing For Biofuels, Not Food
Stephen Leahy, IPS
Biofuels have quickly turned from environmental saviour to just another mega-scale get-rich quick scheme. Countries and regions without their own oil reserves to tap now see their farms, peatlands and forests as potential "oil fields" -- shallow but renewable lakes of green oil.
However, renewable does not mean sustainable, and in most cases the only green part of biofuel is the wealth they generate.
Not surprisingly, given the record high oil prices, worldwide investment in bioenergy reached 21 billion dollars in 2007, according to the U.N. Environment Programme. The Inter-American Development Bank announced 3 billion dollars for investment in private sector biofuel projects -- mainly in Brazil -- while the World Bank said it had 10 billion dollars available in 2007.
Meanwhile development assistance for food-producing agriculture had fallen to 3.4 billion dollars in 2004 -- with the World Bank's share less than 1 billion dollars, according to the Bank's own World Development Report on Agriculture released in October 2007. And most of this financial assistance was spent on subsidising use of chemical fertilisers.
"It's not just the World Bank, regional development agencies, progressive development groups in Europe and many countries are all investing in agrofuels," says Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute, a U.S. NGO focused on social and environmental issues.
"I was amazed to see how much land in India has been taken away from poor people to start up new agrofuel operations," Mittal told IPS after a recent visit to her home country.
(4 February 2008)
Also at Common Dreams.
Biofuels make little environmental difference
New research from Australia and the OECD shows the benefits of biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions are insignificant, at only one to four per cent.
A new Federal Parliamentary report shows there's also no economic case for mandating the level of ethanol in fuel.
OECD trade and agriculture analyst, Martin von Lampe, says with global subsidies of nearly 16 billion dollars going to biofuel production, governments need to reconsider if they're worthwhile.
"Governments around the world are putting a lot of hope in a number of areas on biofuels and it seems that many of these hopes are only partially justified", he says.
"The environmental benefits are much less than they were assumed to be, the savings in fossil energy are much lower than they were thought to be, and, at the same time, the support to biofuels is relatively costly".
(5 February 2008)