Campaigning for an Energy Future

A grassroots initiative dubbed 25x'25 has an ambitious goal to increase the United States' use of renewable energy from 6 percent to 25 percent in less than two decades. While the initiative's coalition of environmental groups, farm organizations and energy producers advocates a wide range of renewable technologies, biodiesel, ethanol and biomass are all part of the plan. More than half of all the renewable energy in 2025 will come from biomass if the organization's predictions prove accurate-with prosperous implications for biofuels producers and rural communities.
By Jerry W. Kram | January 24, 2007
Few would dispute that renewable energy will be an increasingly important resource in the future. A coalition of 350 organizations are convinced that the future is now.

The 25x'25 campaign not only believes explosive growth in renewable energy is possible, but it will provide economic growth and development for large swaths of rural America. The goal of 25x'25 is to see renewable energy make up 25 percent of the nation's energy supply by the year 2025. That is four times the percentage that renewable energy provides today. "I'm optimistic that we can reach those goals," says Bill Richards, cochairman of the 25x'25 Steering Committee. "I'm optimistic because I don't think we will see oil go back down to the prices we've seen before. I'm optimistic because the scientists working in the biomass area feel the technology is close to producing energy from biomass at a competitive price and maybe even cheaper than oil."

He continued, "I'm optimistic because I see renewable energy and less dependence on Mideast oil is going to be a necessity-not to mention the demand on energy from China and India. We have competition we've never coped with before. So I think more renewable energy, more oil, more of everything is what makes me bullish for agriculture and for the land."

Richards was head of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service during the first Bush administration. He and his sons grow corn and soybeans on their farm near Circleville, Ohio.

25x'25's roots go back to the Energy Futures Coalition, a group of environmental, business and political leaders who saw in late 2001 that it was necessary to face the country's need for and use of energy from politically unstable suppliers. "25x25 is a grassroots initiative, where a very diverse cross section of interests have come together to help forge a new energy future for the nation," 25x'25 Campaign Project Manager Ernie Shea says. "It's led by the agriculture and forestry community, but it includes organizations representing environmental interests, conservation organizations, labor interests and the religious community. It's a growing group of partners that are focusing on energy solutions from the land."

National sponsors of the initiative range from the American Loggers Association to Environmental Defense to the National Farmers Union. State, local and regional sponsors include state farm bureau federations, soybean boards, corn marketing associations, electrical cooperatives, and businesses ranging from Earth Friendly Fuels in Arizona to Cuppy's Coffee and Smoothies in Florida.
More than 125 members of the U.S. Congress have endorsed the 25x'25 campaign, according to Shea. On the state level, 22 governors have lent their support to the campaign, most recently Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Bob Riley of Alabama.

By the Numbers
The United States currently uses a little less then 100 quadrillion British thermal units (Btus), or quads, a year. One quad is the equivalent of 293 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity or 183 million barrels of oil or 38.5 million tons of coal. By 2025, energy consumption is projected to reach 117.7 quads. A quarter of that amount would equal 29.4 quads which is the 25x'25 campaign's goal. Alternative sources supply about six quads of the United States' energy today, about half of which comes from hydropower.

In 25x'25's vision, wind, solar, photovoltaic, geothermal and hydro power are expected to supply a little less than half of the renewable energy goal, which is a little less than 14 quads. That leaves about 15.5 quads to come from biomass resources. "There are any number of ways that biomass grown on rangeland, farmland and forestland can be used," Shea says. "There are liquid fuels to electricity applications, ethanol applications and biodiesel applications. There are so many biomass opportunities."

The campaign commissioned a study by the RAND Corporation to identify the economic impacts of achieving its goal. RAND ran 1,500 simulations with varying assumptions of future energy trends. Even in its most pessimistic scenario-where fossil fuel prices fell and renewable technologies became more expensive-the result was only a 6 percent to 8 percent increase in energy prices over the next two decades. Most of the simulations showed significant savings in both energy costs and carbon dioxide emissions. "The myth that a lot of people keep perpetuating is that it can't be done and it costs too much, Shea says. "Well our work is demonstrating very convincingly, in my opinion, that it can be done, that it's not going to cost significantly more and, in many cases, it can result in a reduction of total energy expenditures."

Shea cautioned that RAND was revising the study because some changes were needed in the electrical generation section of the model. He didn't think the biofuels section would be significantly affected, however. The revised version of the study is expected to be released in February 2007.

A companion study from the University of Tennessee (UT) looked at the impact of 25x'25 on rural areas. The study concluded that there are enough resources in the rural United States to produce enough biomass to satisfy the country's appetite for both food and fuel. By 2025, between corn and oilseed crops, wood residue, straw and stover, and dedicated energy crops, production of energy feedstocks could approach 1,300 million tons annually. That much biomass will yield 86 billion gallons of ethanol, 1.1 billion gallons of biodiesel and 932 billion kilowatts of electricity.

Small-Town Boom
The UT study indicates 25x'25 will give rural America a real shot in the arm. Because of the realities of transporting biomass, most energy plants will be located in rural areas near forests, pastures and cropland. "That's why the agricultural community is front and center, providing leadership for this because it's a way to revitalize rural economies, strengthen rural America, improve the farm income and at the same time address environmental challenges, soil erosion, and water and air quality," Shea says. "It's also part of our national security matrix. Farmers and ranchers will have a chance to help improve homeland security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. So there are a lot of ways in which the rural components of America can step to the forefront at this time of need."

Achieving the campaign's goals could bring $700 billion in new economic activity over the next 18 years, much of it in rural areas. The UT study projected that $180 billion of that amount would be in new farm income alone. Biodiesel, ethanol and biomass facilities could create as many as 5.1 million new jobs.

Moving to biomass energy sources is likely to change the face of the American countryside. The UT study projects major shifts in agricultural production as dedicated energy crops become more important. Energy crops could reach 105 million acres by 2025. Ten percent to 15 percent of this land will likely come from land that is idle or in the Conservation Reserve Program while 30 percent to 35 percent of the acres will come from land currently planted with corn, soybeans or wheat. The remaining 67 million acres will come from pasture and hay land currently used for livestock production. The study's findings indicate that ranchers will convert more than 100 million acres of pasture to more intensively managed hay land in order to produce needed livestock forage. "A lot of those acres will also come from the forestry industry," Richards says. "But there is a lot of under-utilized land, especially around the fringes of the Corn Belt. There is an opportunity to get a lot more value and production out of that land."

Step by Step
To achieve its goals, the 25x'25 campaign is moving in well-defined stages. The first stage was to develop a vision of what the partners in the campaign wanted to achieve. That was achieved in part by bringing the campaign's supporting organizations together for national summit meetings in 2005 and 2006.

The second step of the process was to take the plan to leaders and groups in the agricultural community to see if they would buy into the campaign's vision and goals. They did, Shea says, and now the campaign is in its third stage, growing and broadening its base of support. "The endorsing entities have been working for about six months in a collaborative, facilitative process to identify the policy building blocks that are going be necessary to get the 25x'25," he says.

The campaign is circulating a draft implementation among its member organizations. That document will be finalized and is scheduled to be released in mid- to late February 2007. "That document will include policy mechanisms for decision makers to consider as they talk about new energy legislation, the new Farm Bill, appropriation opportunities to strengthen energy security," Shea says, adding that the implementation document won't be a renewable energy bill, but a menu of consensus policy positions that have a broad base of support. "Rather than trying to hash everything out in committee hearings and negotiations up on the Hill, we are trying to build consensus even before we go to Congress by offering them this implementation program that represents the intent and thinking of the partners," Shea says.

More information on the 25x'25 campaign is available at www.25x25.org. Links to the RAND and UT studies, and other resources can be found at http://www.25x25.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=56&Itemi=73.

Jerry W. Kram is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach him at jkram@bbibiofuels.com or (701) 746-8385.
 
 
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