GILFILLAN ESTATE - U.S. Senator Al Franken, D-Minnesota, and Minnesota Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, voiced opposing views Tuesday at the Farmfest Forum on the future direction of renewable energy policy.
Beard said renewable energy programs need to be profitable from the start to get his support. He said fossil fuels will remain for a long time.
"Renewable energy is good, but we need to be smart about it. I disagree that we're getting away from a hydro-carbon economy (energy from coal, petroleum and natural gas)," Beard said. "One hundred years from now, we'll still have it. Show me the numbers, not a save-the-planet reason for an alternative energy facility. ... We're not addicted to hydro-carbons, we're codependent. The government is not the solution to the problem. Get rid of price supports. Be careful, the government giveth and taketh away. Government mandates can ruin an industry by wrecking the market."
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Sen. Al Franken participated in a forum on renewable energy Tuesday at Farmfest.
Beard said the turkey litter power plant in Benson sells electricity for 12 cents a kilowatt hour while Twin Cities customers pay eight cents for electricity. He said bio-mass and other renewable energy power plants should not force people to buy power above market rates.
Franken said he was fond of energy efficiency and said more facilities should recover steam to use it for heat and energy, which he said is being done in St. Paul and at new plants including the POET Project LIBERTY cellulosic ethanol plant going up at Emmetsburg, Iowa.
"Thirty percent of plant energy is wasted heat," Franken said. "A bipartisan energy efficiency bill is going through my subcommittee. It's something we really need."
Franken disagreed with panel members who said to beware of government programs.
"The Erie Canal opened the Midwest to European markets. The government created the Internet. President Eisenhower created the Interstate highway system. The Department of Defense created GPS with the first satellite system," Franken said.
Franken said he has often voted against Big Oil company subsidies because they're mature industries. "We still have loopholes to get rid of," he added.
POET Corporate Affairs Vice President Doug Berven said big oil companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against ethanol programs and projects because they stand to lose nearly one-third of the energy market share.
"Foreign companies fund lots of our biofuels research," Berven said. "For 200 years, we've had a fossil fuel-based economy. It may sound impossible to get away from it, but it isn't. We didn't leave the Stone Age because we ran out of stones. Ethanol costs less than gas, has more octane, it's good for us and helps feed the world by creating a (profit) margin to farm."
Berven said the new POET cellulosic ethanol plant at Emmetsburg's feed stock will be corn crop residue - cobs, leaves, husk, and some stalk.
Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) President Tom Haag said the MCHA won't stop fighting big oil companies. "We're the little engine that could," he said.
The Friends of the Minnesota River Valley sponsored a forum on enhancing ag production and water quality with Drainage Water Management (DWM) including subsurface irrigation.
The event focused on producers using DWM to reduce excess nitrate runoff and increase water quality and crop yield with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) approved practices eligible for technical and financial assistance from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Under the program, drainage outlets are lowered a few weeks before planting and harvest to allow the field to drain more fully, raised after planting to store water for crops and raised after harvest to reduce nitrates.
Tracy farmer Brian Hicks said has enjoyed DWM success since be installed it in 2006. He is now a DWM program consultant. For more information, visit the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC) at www.admcoalition.com
Farmfest continues today, Thursday
From 8 to 10 a.m. today, the Minnesota Farm Bureau sponsors a pancake breakfast in the forum building. Northstar Commodities Marketing Analyst Mark Schultz will speak at 9 a.m.
Gov. Mark Dayton talks in the forum building at 10:15 a.m. Thursday. Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson will discuss future Minnesota agriculture opportunities from 10:30 to 11:50 a.m. Thursday. The Minnesota Farmers Union hosts a watermelon feed in the forum building at 1 p.m. Thursday.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).