Biofuels Become Minnesota Bragging Right

Minnesota is biofuel country, according to Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He recently dubbed the state “the renewable fuel capital of America” because it has the highest renewable fuel use per capita in the nation stemming from strong utilization of ethanol and biodiesel fuels.

A recent report on ozone pollution from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed Minnesota as one of only 19 U.S. states that recorded an acceptable level of ozone in every county, and the use of biofuels is credited as helping the state achieve the levels. Ground-level ozone is a primary component of smog, and ozone is also a known lung irritant and threat to human health. While geography and weather patterns are key factors in areas where ozone is a problem, Minnesota has taken steps to reduce outdoor air pollution by embracing green energy sources. “While Minnesota is recognized as a leader in cleaner energy and alternative fuels, there is much yet to be accomplished before we can declare victory over air pollution,” said Tim Gerlach, who is the director of outdoor air programs at the American Lung Association of Minnesota. “Federal clean air standards are constantly under attack, and our energy policies are still far too dependent on high-polluting fossil fuels, all of which must be imported in Minnesota. We need to focus more attention on cleaner, renewable energy sources that can be produced here — closer to home.” Minnesota state law requires that virtually all gasoline sold in the state should contain 10 percent ethanol, which helps the gas burn cleaner. Adding ethanol has reduced the amount of gasoline used by Minnesota drivers by an estimated 260 million gallons every year. Gov. Pawlenty has proposed increasing the ethanol content to 20 percent by 2010, but such a change would require approvals from federal organizations and auto manufacturers. All major automaker warranties currently approve of using gasoline that only contains 10 percent ethanol. There are 13 ethanol plants in the state with an estimated production capacity of more than 500 million gallons a year. Minnesota ranks 3rd in the nation in production of fuel-grade ethanol after Iowa and Illinois, and Minnesota corn growers send approximately 15 percent of their crop to ethanol plants. The state also has more than 100 filling stations selling E85, an ethanol and gasoline mix consisting of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that can be used in flexible fuel vehicles. More than 200 Minnesota filling stations now offer B2, a diesel fuel blended with 2 percent biodiesel made from soybeans. Several truck fleets around the state are using 5 to 20 percent blends of biodiesel fuel year-round in Minnesota’s cold weather climate. In the summer of 2005 it is expected that the requirements for implementing a statewide 2 percent biodiesel mandate will go into effect, which could require the use of 16 million gallons of renewable fuel. Currently, three new biodiesel production facilities are under construction in Minnesota. When the facilities are operational they should produce more than 50 million gallons of fuel. Cleaner burning fuels for engines aren’t the state’s only renewable energy efforts. Minnesota has become the nation’s third largest producer of wind-generated electricity, behind California and Texas. Utility company, Xcel Energy, is required by the state to contract for at least 1125 MW of wind energy and 125 MW of biomass by 2010. A recent analysis by the Minnesota Department of Commerce indicates that currently 11 percent of the state’s electricity needs come from renewable energy, and by 2015 the number will increase to 20 percent largely because of additional wind energy installations. All Minnesota utilities need to make a good faith effort to procure 10 percent of their generation capability from renewable energy by 2015, which is an additional amount from Xcel Energy’s mandates. Utilities are also required to offer their customers the option of purchasing wind energy to increase their personal offsets of traditional electricity fuels. Similar to E85 as a consumer choice program, “green pricing” programs have increased the number of wind turbines in the Midwest as more consumers choose these optional programs. All Minnesota natural gas and electricity utilities are required to spend a total of around $75 million per year on energy efficiency and conservation programs to reduce demand levels. While not renewable, they reduce the need for traditional fuels and increase the percentage impact of renewable sources. Buildings funded by taxpayer dollars must meet the State of Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines, which require that structures exceed existing energy codes by at least 30 percent.

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