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Minnesota poised to go green

Tom Webb, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Minnesota is barren of fossil fuels, with no crude oil, natural gas or coal reserves. Yet its renewable energy potential is gigantic, if so far mostly unused, awaiting the right conditions for that power to be tapped.

In 2007, that moment has finally arrived.

A potent mixture of economic opportunity, environmental alarm, national security anxiety and political realignment is making this the year Minnesota breaks from its fossil-fuel past and moves toward a future of homegrown energy produced from the wind, from its farms, its forests and prairies.

In his inaugural address Tuesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty embraced the vision so passionately that he made amends to ‘visionaries in the conservation and environmental movement,’ who two decades ago were urging Minnesota to adopt a greener energy future, but were laughed at by state leaders.

‘Those leaders lacked the vision to see the future, or lacked the courage to stand up to entrenched interests that protected the status quo,’ Pawlenty said. ‘An alternative energy plan is urgently needed now. Our country remains addicted to oil. That addiction is an imminent threat to our national security, economic security, our environment, and it limits economic development, especially in our rural areas.’

Remarkably, even longtime opponents see opportunity. Democrats and Republicans do. Farmers and environmentalists do. Security hawks and peace groups do. It’s not quite a Kumbaya moment, but it’s getting close. Coal, oil and natural gas interests won’t like it, but none of those fuels are native to Minnesota. Wind, grain and biomass are.
(7 Jan 2007)
The enthusiasm is refreshing, but critical thought is also important. Not every energy alternative is a great idea (e.g., corn ethanol). -BA

Rise in Ethanol Raises Concerns About Corn as a Food

Alexei Barionuevo, NY Times
Renewing concerns about whether there will be enough corn to support the demand for both fuel and food, a new study has found that ethanol plants could use as much as half of America’s corn crop next year.

Dozens of new ethanol plants are being built by farmers and investors in a furious gold rush, spurred by a call last year from the Bush administration and politicians from farm states to produce more renewable fuels to curb America’s reliance on oil. But the new study by the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental group, found that the number of ethanol plants coming on line has been underreported by more than 25 percent by both the Agriculture Department and the Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol industry’s main lobbying group.
(5 Jan 2007)
Related from Boston Globe: Ethanol’s Success Story May Have Downside.
Press release from Earth Policy Institute: Distillery Demand for Grain to Fuel Cars Vastly Understated: World May Be Facing Highest Grain Prices in History

Soybeans may grow scarce

Bloomberg via LA Times
Traders say the price of the commodity could double next year as demand rises and farmers allot fewer acres to it.
Soybean prices may be headed for their biggest jump in three decades as farmers plant more fields with corn.

Growers in the U.S. are preparing to sow the fewest acres of soybeans in 10 years. At the same time, demand is rising, creating conditions that traders say may double this year’s average price of $5.98 a bushel and allow soybeans to replace corn as the best-performing farm commodity.

“The day of sub-$6 soybean prices is over,” said Dan Basse, president of agricultural research firm AgResource Co. in Chicago. “Demand is growing too fast for production to keep pace.”

Soybeans are used in about 60% of processed foods consumed by developed nations.

…The annual return on soybeans over the last two decades has lagged behind corn as U.S. demand surged for ethanol, a gasoline additive distilled from corn. During that time, global soybean supplies grew faster than consumption as new drought-resistant seeds boosted production in the U.S. and farmers in Brazil and Argentina expanded cultivation into wild grasslands.
(28 Dec 2007)