Biofuels Workshop and Trade Show jump starts Eastern industry

By | January 01, 2006
One of the main goals of October's Biofuels Workshop and Trade Show: Eastern Region, held in Atlanta, Ga., was to determine what it is going to take to get the biofuels industry moving in the Eastern United States. The event provided the ideal platform to discuss boosting biofuels use, production and acceptance in the East.

To address this, workshop participants broke into groups to discuss the opportunities and barriers facing the biofuels industry in the Eastern United States. These talks included discussions of how it may be possible to regionally coordinate incentives and policy for greater effectiveness. Later, representatives from these discussion groups presented summaries and recommendations to a panel comprised of representatives of policy-influencing organizations, who were given the opportunity to respond. A brief summary of the discussion follows:

If all agreed upon one thing, it was that education is the key-and that education needs to come from objective sources. "Education is the key for policy-makers that have interests in energy," said Kathy Baskin, managing director of the Southern States Energy Board. "That is a strategy you need to build if you are looking for legislation. Legislation is not the only answer, but it certainly does play an important role."

Rick Handley, director of Regional Energy Programs for the Coalition of Northeastern Governors Policy Research Center, said that education doesn't only need to flow toward policy-makers or consumers; it also needs to go to the industry itself. The existing network of groups not only gives information to policy-makers, but also notifies constituents of the policy-makers concerns. "We need to position ourselves between the people who are developing biofuels plants and the policy-makers," Handley said. "The reason for that is to facilitate communications between the two groups. Our role is also to educate the ethanol and biodiesel industry that there are issues the state is still concerned about."

Policy-makers need to consider renewable fuels as part of the Northeast's regional energy security, said Scott Welsh, project manager for the proposed Penn-Mar Ethanol facility. This helps replace the driver of helping the farmer, which isn't as strong in the Northeast as it is in the Midwest.

Sumesh Arora of the Mississippi Technology Alliance said there needs to be encouragement of alternative feedstocks. "We need to think outside the box and look at multiple-use crops that can be used both for food and fuel," he said.

Speakers said it's clear that policy-makers are foremost interested in economic benefits and jobs. In order to take advantage of that, Russ Montgomery, president of Regional Economic Development District Initiatives, suggested approaching policy-makers about the benefits of the biofuels industry through wide-ranging coalitions and partnerships.

Montgomery also said that capitalizing on nontraditional partnerships may help land financing for biodiesel projects.
Phil Badger, president of General Bioenergy Inc., suggested that policy-makers should focus more attention on commercializing new technology rather than promoting more research. He added that financial institutions may not consider nontraditional feedstocks as commodities, which could create problems in financing projects. Most participants suggested that policy-makers should help the push for developing nontraditional feedstocks.

Gene Quick of the Southern Alliance for the Utilization of Biomass Resources said a political champion is needed to fight for the biofuels cause. "You need someone who knows something about biofuels and is willing to do something about it," Quick said. He also said that individual states can be more effective in the short term in making positive changes for the industry, something with which Badger agreed.

"We need more long-term thinking in government and industry, and the programs that match that," Badger said.
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