On October 14th, the Executive Task Force on Biomass and Biofuels Development in Kentucky (BTF) will meet for the third time in the Capitol Annex from 1-3. This will be the second to last meeting before a report is due to be presented to the Governor on November 30th.
The task force is a cooperative effort involving the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, the Energy and Environment Cabinet, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the General Assembly, universities, business and private citizens.
The goal is to meet federal mandates that demand states significantly increase use of renewable fuels. The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) calls for Kentucky to have 25% of its fuel in a biofuel by 2022. The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that relates to energy production calls for Kentucky to increase its use of renewable energy to 25% by 2022.
According to a White Paper prepared for the Governor, that’s a big problem. The moves of the General Assembly to provide financial incentives and tax relief for biofuel producers haven’t translated into significantly more supplies of biofuel to meet the federal mandate with supplies produced within the state.
…As a result of the 2006 RFS mandate, Kentucky consumers now use 10 percent biofuels in over 70 percent of their gasoline. However, only 24 percent of the biofuels currently consumed is produced instate with the balance being imported primarily from the Midwest. As the mandate expands over the next 13 years, the average biofuels blend rate will increase to over 25 percent further increasing our need for biofuels imports. This will increase Kentucky’s demand for biofuels from 150 million gallons to 775 million gallons per year. If Kentucky fails to expand its biofuels production, the Commonwealth will import nearly 90 percent of its renewable fuels in 2022, the final year of RFS expansion…”
The federal government capped the amount of biofuel that can be produced from food crops like corn. The specter of a price war between big energy and food producers is frightening because of the certainty that big energy will be the victor. Kentucky has already met its production limit of ethanol and biodiesel by producing 90 million gallons a year. To produce enough biofuel from other sources will require 10 million tons of biomass to produce 700 million gallons of renewable biofuels.
The questions that will have to be answered are “What biomass?” and “Where do we get it?”
One answer is from forestry products. Here again, the federal government limits the amount of biomass that can be taken from forests planted after 2007. Even if one half of the amount needed comes from forestry, that leaves a staggering one million (1,000,000) acres to be planted in biomass. That will consume 7% of the state’s total farm acreage. To get to full diversification will require 13% of the state’s total farmland.
One other agricultural source is crops that can be rotated with row crops like wheat, corn and soybeans or perennials planted around the edges of row crops. Other experiments involving animal waste, lumber byproducts, wind mills and small scale hydro electric power are all under way. To date, no single source will generate enough energy to replace existing fuels.
The good news is that if the state can meet the demand for renewable fuels, revenues of 1.7 billion dollars can be generated annually. The bad news is that Tennessee and Florida already have demonstration projects in place for producing biofuel products close to the farms that grow them. Kentucky is playing catch up in this area.
The large furry animal in the room in the whole biofuels discussion is coal. According to a recent report, Kentucky is the number three coal producer in the US. It’s the number one east of the Mississippi River. Over 90% of Kentucky’s electricity comes from coal. As anyone knows who has handled coal, it’s dirty. It produces most of the carbon dioxide that is being blamed for global warming.
Coal isn’t going away anytime soon. So, turning coal to a liquid, “sequestering” carbon dioxide, and burning a more eco-friendly product “co-generation” are a few of the ways being explored to keep coal a viable energy source.
Energy issues involve national security, global climate change, economic growth the environment and federal demands on states that are suffering the biggest downturn in their budgets since the Great Depression.
The Biofuels Task Force has its work cut out. Make nonpolluting bricks out of straw and do it by November 30th when they report to the Governor.