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Renewable electrical generation an 'economic driver' -- study

Renewable energy production is “an economic driver as well as a nice thing to placate tree-huggers,” according to an energy specialist with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC).

The UCS estimates a proposed “renewable electricity standard” (RES), requiring 20 percent of domestic electricity be produced using sources such as ag-based biofuels and “biomass” crops, wind, and solar energy, would save Illinois consumers $2.3 billion on their energy bills through 2020.

In a new study, the group concluded the plan — which was stripped out of the current federal energy bill — would produce a net 3,620 new manufacturing, construction, and other jobs across Illinois.

An RES would generate $1.3 billion in capital investment and $90 million in rural property tax revenues statewide, the UCS projected.

Further, farmers and rural landowners could accrue $915 million from wind power land leases and biomass energy production under the standard, according to the study.

The ELPC’s Barry Matchett told FarmWeek renewable electrical production also would help bring down farm production costs.

The American Farm Bureau Federation last week warned higher energy prices have cost farmers nationwide $6 billion-plus in added expenses over the 2003-04 season.

Matchett questioned whether use of natural gas to power “peaker plants,” (plants that produce added electricity during peak demand periods), rather than to produce fertilizer, is “a rational policy.”

That practice adds to the cost of natural gas, he said.

With the energy bill likely stalled until 2005, Matchett hopes lawmakers will take another stab at restoring the RES to the energy bill.

“Most people think when you’re talking about a renewable energy standard, you’re talking about satisfying some tree huggers,” he said. “But in practice, a renewable standard would increase local economies in rural parts of the country.

“It would increase direct farm revenue. You’d have an increase in the local tax base, often in counties which have a real need for that base to be increased for schools and roads.

“And, of course, you have an environmental benefit: You don’t necessarily have as much carbon going into the air.”

Meanwhile, ag groups are pushing House-Senate conferees to approve the Jumpstarting our Business Strengths (JOBS) bill, which includes a new Senate-proposed biodiesel tax credit and ethanol tax credit changes aimed at ensuring ethanol fuel tax revenues fund highway projects nationwide.

The new “volumetric” ethanol credit would eliminate what amounts to a highway funding penalty for states with higher ethanol use.

Matchett is encouraged by the growing federal attention being paid to biofuels once viewed by many as a pipe dream.

“We’ve now got E-85 (85 percent ethanol gasoline),” he noted.

“Fifteen years ago, who’d have thought that would be possible? It was not considered a mainstream thing.”

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