| Governor Beshear’s Executive Task Force on Biomass and Biofuels Development in Kentucky is as good a proposal as the “Green Bank” is bad. The difference between the two programs is stark. The Green Bank of Kentucky is designed to help state government use federal money to help state government. Going green is a great idea, but new buildings and new thermostats and water heaters in Central Kentucky is a far reach from the true misery out in the state.
City governments, county governments are strapped for cash. There are literally no jobs that will keep young people in rural areas of the state. The Green Bank of Kentucky is dangling the construction job carrot under the noses of skilled workers. Luring them out of their home areas to the central part of the state is a cruel joke on local governments that desperately need those paychecks and the taxes they generate to keep the lights on in courthouses. At the present pace, energy savings in counties with double digit unemployment will be closing offices and laying off employees.
By contrast, biomass and biofuel development have the potential to bring jobs to rural communities. Jobs and industries unique to rural communities. Jobs that will require more than entry level factory skills. Farmers can grow new income producing crops, keeping a greater portion of their income because transportation costs will be lower. New technologies developed by ag departments, farm implement companies and entrepreneurs will spur investment moneys into rural areas that haven’t seen new money in a number of years.
The federal government is demanding that the state finally get really serious about reducing the size of its carbon footprint. The time to nibble around the edges of our dependence, some may say addiction, on foreign sources of oil is long past. The feds have set a deadline and Kentucky has found in the past that the federal government will accept only so many excuses before Washington’s check book snaps shut.
Kentucky’s ace in the hole, coal, is scrambling to find a way to make itself burn cleaner and emit fewer tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As much as environmentalists might wish it weren’t so, coal is not going away anytime soon. Unless, of course, we are all willing to reduce our electricity usage by 90%. Only the most fanatical are willing to take that step. After living for weeks without electricity last winter, we certainly are not.
West Kentucky is uniquely suited to take advantage of biomass and biofuel development. Land under cultivation as far as the eye can see far outstrips acreage in the rest of the state. West Kentucky farmers are canny businesspeople who embrace new technologies with the fervor of old time religion. West Kentuckians have a network of tech schools from WKU to MSU to WKCTS in Paducah that are eager to train students to be factory workers in 21st century factories that will demand brainwork as much as 20th century factories demanded brute force.
The Governor wisely filled his Task Force with members from the General Assembly, higher education and private business. A goodly number of those folk are from West Kentucky. Senator Winters from Murray knows well the issues facing his district in these hard economic times. Through the Senator and others from this region, West Kentucky has a seat at the table.
We can only hope that when the final report is issued on November 30th, schools in this region will have leadership roles. We urge the Senator to push for demonstration projects in West Kentucky. We have the land, the water, the resources, to produce biomass and biofuels to meet the demand that is rushing toward us. West Kentuckians cannot wait forever for crumbs to fall our way.
We’ve got a seat at the table. Let’s not get up empty handed.