Revitalize U.S. Farming Through Renewable Energy

The development of on-farm renewable energy resources in the United States has the potential to boost farmer income, create jobs in rural communities, diversify the nation’s energy market, and protect the environment, according to the Environmental & Energy Study Institute.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-10-04 [] Congress has the opportunity in the Farm Bill to marry agriculture and energy production, says the new report, ‘The 2002 Farm Bill: Revitalizing the Farm Economy Through Renewable Energy Development.’ “Diversifying our nation’s energy markets through the development of renewable power and fuels is a matter of national security,” explains EESI executive director Carol Werner, co-author of the report. “By integrating renewable energy development initiatives throughout the Farm Bill, America’s farmers can be provided with the support they need to develop their renewable energy resources, including bio-energy, wind, solar, and geothermal.” Advances in technology have brought down the cost of wind power substantially, it explains, and farmers can reap great economic benefit from developing these renewable resources. According to the American Wind Energy Association, developers of two windfarms in Iowa pay rent to 115 landowners to site their turbines. They pay US$2,000 per turbine, which require about one-quarter of an acre of land each, for a total of $640,000 per year. The wind projects also generate $2 million per year in tax revenue to the counties, and have created 40 new jobs. The report maintains that tremendous untapped renewable resources exist throughout U.S. farmland. Biomass feedstocks, including crop residues such as corn stover, rice straw and sugar cane bagasse, as well as animal waste and low-input energy crops can be used to generate electricity, heat, fuels, chemicals, and a variety of marketable products, creating new businesses and jobs. Burdensome agricultural waste streams can be converted into revenue streams. Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from biomass and blended with gasoline or used as a stand-alone fuel. According to the Argonne National Laboratory, cellulosic ethanol can achieve a 100 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline. Biofuels, like ethanol, can be produced along with biobased chemicals, polymers, and other products in ‘biorefineries,’ lowering production costs and producing several marketable products. EESI recommends that renewable energy production be integrated throughout the Farm Bill, including the Conservation, Research and Rural Development titles, as well as in related appropriations and tax legislation. It also recommends several new initiatives that could be included in an Energy title of the Farm Bill.
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