All posts by paulinefeldman

The Farmer Perspective on New RFS Proposal

Favored by the Sun
©David Cromwell, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_cornwell/14959884063?ytcheck=1

On June 10, 2015, the EPA released its proposal for the 2015 and 2016 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) biofuel volume requirements. The proposal reduces the Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO), which would permit gasoline and diesel blends to include a lower volume of renewable fuels than currently mandated. According to Kendall Septon, writing for the Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Blog, the EPA “cited market constraints in accommodating increasing volumes of ethanol, along with limits on the availability of non-ethanol renewable fuels.”

Although the EPA claims that “the 2015 and 2016 proposed standards… are expected to lead to substantial growth over time in the production and use of higher-level ethanol blends and other qualifying renewable fuels,” it seems that if the EPA desires a larger supply of cellulosic biofuels and greater distribution infrastructure, then it should promote more investment in biofuels – not less. Not only does the RVO reduction seem like an illogical way to advance biofuel technology, but it is also likely to have a negative impact on biofuel industry stakeholders.

For example, “the grain farming community in Indiana and the Midwest is very concerned about the EPA’s plans to reduce its RVOs under the Renewable Fuel Standard, and they see it as an attack on the market,” explained Kyle Cline, a National Government Relations Public Policy Advisor at the Indiana Farm Bureau.

The RFS was established in 2005 and expanded in 2007 “to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and US dependence on oil imports by establishing increasing quantities of renewable fuels that must be blended into transportation fuels” (Stock). Iowa State University Professor Bruce Babcock describes the RFS as “a tax on gasoline and a subsidy to biofuels.” These subsidies and taxes manifest in Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are RFS compliance permits.

According to Cline, farmers in Indiana view the RFS in a very positive light. In creating demand for biofuels, the RFS transformed the market for corn and other foodstock. The Indiana Farm Bureau has taken the position that they “don’t want to reduce the RFS at all from the 2007 levels,” Cline explained. “We want to see cellulosic biofuels make it to the finish line,” said Cline, but a reduction would “signal to investors not to invest in biofuels.” This lack of investment would, in turn, damage the market for corn ethanol and other first generation biofuels as well as stunt the production and development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels.

“Farmers primarily support ethanol because they realize the financial benefits,” said Cline. Unlike some other renewable energy sources, biofuel production does not have a significant effect on employment. “Farms in the Midwest are really not that labor intensive. [The draw of biofuels is] more of a business proposition. Even if you are not selling directly to the ethanol plant, you are still benefiting because of overall higher demand.” Cline pointed to the influx of college graduates in towns with a growing ethanol industry and the positive implications of such a change as an example.

From a land-use standpoint, “the farmers typically use minimal tillage methods, and they maintain normal annual crop rotations because they know they need healthy soil in long run,” Cline said. In Indiana, the farmers generally rotate corn and beans, and they often raise livestock as well.

A major draw for biofuels is the ability to “grow local, use local. Farmers fill-up with the same fuel they help produce. And profits stay local instead of going aboard or into the pockets of big oil companies.” Similarly, biofuel – as a renewable energy source – can offer more energy security than oil can, and, Cline contends, “we need to reduce our dependence on imports from volatile nations.”

Sources:
Cline, Kyle. Personal interview. 8 July 2015.
Septon, Kendall. “EPA Proposes New Volume Requirements for Renewable Fuel Standard.” Clean Cities Blog. U.S. Department of Energy, 11 June 2015. Web. 10 July 2015. <http://www.eereblogs.energy.gov/cleancities/post/2015/06/11/epa_rfs_requirements.aspx&gt;.
Stock, James. The Renewable Fuel Standard: A Path Forward. New York: Columbia Univ., 2015. Print.
“Renewable Fuel Standard Program: Standards for 2014, 2015, and 2016 and Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2017.” Federal Register. National Archives and Records Administration, 10 June 2015. Web. 10 July 2015. <https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/06/10/2015-13956/ renewable-fuel-standard-program-standards-for-2014-2015-and-2016-and-biomass-based-diesel-volume-for?utm_campaign=subscription+mailing+list&utm_medium=email&utm_source=federalregister.gov>.

Eilat Eilot: An Off-Grid Technology Hub

Wide view off grid village
©Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative LTD

Located at the southern tip of Israel’s Negev desert, the Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative has turned the arid desert region into a hub for the creation of renewable off-grid energy technologies and sustainable development. Eilat Eilot is a non-profit, owned collectively, or by kibbutzim, in Eilat and Hevel Eilot and based in Kibbutz Ketura. Environmentalists Dorit Banet and Noam Ilan founded the Eilat Eilot Initiative in 2007 (2011 officially). Banet, who serves as CEO, explains that, as entrepreneurs, she and Ilan work day-to-day on the development of the “technology, infrastructure, regulations, awareness, and new financial models that, together, can create a new reality.”

Off-grid technologies function independently from “municipal infrastructure such as the electrical power grid, water, and sanitation systems and other utility services.” A pioneer in the creation and promotion of off-grid technologies, Eilat Eilot built Israel’s first off-grid demonstration village. The purpose of the Off Grid Hub is “to open a new market and field of interest,” says Banet. Taking advantage of the desert sun, Eilat Eilot relies primarily on solar technologies. Eilat Eilot’s Off Grid Hub serves as a model for companies working to develop “products and technologies that will provide energy, water and agriculture needs to populations that [are] out of reach of national water and energy grids.”

off grid village home
©Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative LTD
solar tube cooker
©Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative LTD

 

 

 

 

 

One of Eilat Eilot’s major challenges has been to make its technologies sufficiently affordable. Banet hopes that in the coming years Eilat Eilot will improve the cost and advance the capabilities of its products as well as create “a platform for young, bright people to innovate new technologies.” To achieve the latter, Eilat Eilot hosts an annual conference and competition called Sustainergy™ that invites youth from around the world to present their own research on and solutions for unsolved environmental problems.

©Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative LTD
©Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative LTD

Eilat Eilot’s goal of sustainable development relates not only to the environment but also to job creation. Before the Eilat Eilot project came to the region, employment for locals was almost exclusively related to agriculture and tourism. “We are trying to create a new field of jobs and source of income in Israel’s periphery,” Banet says. “We see the field of renewable and sustainable energy as a catalyst for regional development.” Eilat Eilot exemplifies the way in which increased investment in renewable energy leads to labor market expansion.

Sources: Banet, Dorit. Personal interview. 3 July 2015.
“Welcome to Eilat Eilot.” Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2015. <http://www.renewable-energy-eilat.org/&gt;.

Big Cypress: Searching for Oil in a Nature Preserve

Home to Florida panthers, eastern indigo snakes, and alligators, the Big Cypress National Preserve in southern Florida is a national park, a seemingly superficial designation, because below the surface, Collier Resources Company holds private mineral rights to the reserve. According to Matt Schwartz, the Executive Director of South Florida Wildlands Association, “Collier owns over 800,000 acres of mineral rights in the Everglades” and already has two oil operations in within Big Cypress – one at Bear Island and another at Raccoon Point.

evergladesoil1Burnett Oil Co. has applied for a seismic survey permit in Big Cypress, which will allow Burnett Oil to send vibrations into the ground in order to find the most lucrative areas for oil drilling. Schwartz believes that the survey will almost certainly spot oil, but the question is simply where the most promising areas are specifically located. Once these areas are determined, exploratory oil drilling can occur. Drilling will not necessarily happen immediately after the surveying, however. “Seismic testing is a commodity,” Schwartz explains, “and the data collected during the testing can be sold to other companies.” In an area as large as the Big Cypress National Preserve (over 700,000 acres), knowing the precise location of oil is very valuable to companies interested in purchasing mineral rights. “If I were an oil company, I would want this [information] too,” says Schwartz, “but [Big Cypress] is one of the most biodiverse places in the U.S., and it is very sensitive.” Big Cypress is home to about 30 listed species, which the seismic testing process could place in jeopardy. Continue reading Big Cypress: Searching for Oil in a Nature Preserve

The Millers’ Story

Proponents of fracking often point to increased employment as a selling point, but the fact of the matter is that the true effect of natural gas extraction on employment is uncertain. In April 2014, a Wall Street Journal article by Paul Polzin and Bill Whitsitt claimed that the “oil-and-gas industry has created hundreds of thousands of new, very-high-paying jobs.” However, in a recent study on the effects of shale gas drilling on Pennsylvania’s economy and labor force, physicist Christoph Friedeburg examined local income tax data and federal and state labor statistics to conclude that fracking’s net contribution to employment was “not merely small, but in fact negative.”

On the issue of fracking and labor, we want our global community of readers to engage in dialogues and debates that lead to the formation of ideas and solutions. To inform and facilitate that process, we will present a series of viewpoints from a variety of stakeholders, including those not typically included in the public discourse. We begin the series with a view that is often underrepresented in the fracking discussion – that is the perspective of the homeowners and rig-workers whose daily lives are directly impacted by fracking in a generally positive and personal way.

Pipes frackingRonda Miller and her husband, Brian, live in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Their home is one of about eight to ten properties that touch the Marburger Dairy Farm, which has leased its land to ExxonMobil for natural gas extraction. Ronda is the mother of two sons, Chad and Jay, both of whom have worked in the hydraulic fracturing industry. Ronda and Jay have given first-hand accounts of the impact that fracking has had on their lives.

“Fracking is good for farmers,” Ronda explained, “because they receive checks for thousands of dollars each month for leasing their land.” However, the families who live on the surrounding properties do not necessarily receive any compensation for the sleep-disruption and general irritation that come from the bright stadium lights, which stay on 24 hours a day, and the loud noises that continue intermittently throughout the day and night. Even when a sound barrier was built around the drilling site, the barrier’s roofless structure limited its effectiveness. “If you take a radio and you put a box up [around it],” Ronda explained “it’s still going to come up the top. You would still get noise.” The drilling had already begun when Ronda and her husband “approached [ExxonMobil] and said [they] should get something for being so close to the noise.” Continue reading The Millers’ Story

The Future Grid: A Smarter Way to Power America

On June 11, 2015, the Progressive Policy Institute hosted an event called “The Future Grid: A Smarter Way to Power America,” which included two discussion panels of policy-makers, industry leaders, and expert analysts. In his opening statement, Will Marshall, President of the Progressive Policy Institute, said that the key to advancing the energy grid, and in turn stimulating America’s productivity, “is investing more in infrastructure.” Ladeene Freimuth, Policy Director of GridWise Alliance and President of The Freimuth Group, corroborated Marshall’s statement by arguing that “smart grid technology will give us more resilience and flexibility. And we will have a more reliable grid in the future because new technologies will help us forecast outages.” In response, however, Ronald Minsk, former Director of the National Economic Council at the White House, warned that “sometimes when things get more complex, they get less reliable.”
PPI meeting Continue reading The Future Grid: A Smarter Way to Power America