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Renewable energy burns cleaner than Pork Fat Things

(April 5, 2002 Ė CropChoice news) Ė We are reprinting the following article from early March with the permission of its author, Sally Herrin.

By Sally Herrin
Nebraska Farmers Union

Senator Tom Daschleís energy bill, under debate in Congress as I write, contains a provision to require a 10% renewable portfolio standard for electric generation. It is unlikely that President Bush will permit the RPS to become law, as the administration has sworn to live or die by Arctic drilling and other Pork Fat Things in the interest of the fossil fuels industries.

A renewable portfolio standard, with meaningful tax incentives, is the surest and quickest way to develop renewable energy sources. The coal, petroleum, natural gas, hydro and nuclear power industries have all enjoyed the benefits of government support, over decades and even centuries. Thatís how energy industries get started.

A renewable portfolio standard could be especially meaningful to the Great Plains, which is often called the breadbasket of the country. With abundant wind, solar and biomass potential, and caught in the worst crisis of farm income since the Great Depression, we are ripe for real rural economic development through renewable energy.

Nebraska is already a leader in ethanol development. While 25 years of failed export-based farm and trade policy has depressed corn prices to historic inflation-adjusted lows, ethanol has countered that trend as a key to driving domestic consumption. But ethanol development in Nebraska did not just happen. Our state Ethanol Board has provided leadership and advocacy, and our legislature has provided incentives to level the playing field for ethanol, relative to petroleum.

It is inevitable that renewables will grow as a percentage of the energy mix. Opponents of renewable development are, frankly, living in a dream world, where coal is "clean," global climate change is "only a myth," and the only costs are those customers pay at the pump or in our monthly gas and electric bills. In the real world, fossil fuels are only "cheap" when we ignore their real costs: public health costs, decommissioning costs, the cost of foreign wars (not to mention terrorist attacks on our own soil) to protect our access to other peoplesí supplies of fossil fuels.

The question is not whether we will develop a renewable portfolio for energy generation. The real questions are when, and how. Me, Iíd love to see Congress pass the Jeffords amendment to the Daschle energy bill, which would require that 20% of electricity be generated from clean, renewable sources by 2020. But I live in the real world, and thatís not going to happen this time around.

Itís too bad. Passage of the RPS, with meaningful incentives, would allow the market to work its magic, and we would all benefit from advancements and refinements in renewable energy that we cannot now imagine. Perhaps more significant, passage of a federal RPS would mean real progress in public policy, instead of years of dinking around, tweaking a regulation here, an incentive there. Soon or late, though, increasing reliance on renewables will come. The alternative is unthinkable.

Ever wonder why so many Haitians are desperate enough to set themselves adrift on "boats" made of little more than two liter bottles strapped together with duct tape? Haiti, once an island paradise, is good for little more than a horrible warning now to the rest of the world of what happens when a country cannot come up with a better energy policy than "burn everything until it is gone." Haitiís forests have been burned for charcoal, its soil is all but gone, and the paradise that was is now a stone in the sea, pitting like bread left in the rain.

Nebraskans can help achieve a renewable portfolio standard, through participating as citizens of a democracy. We can let our Senators and Congressmen know we want public policy that promotes renewable energy because it means real rural economic development, protects public health, and helps correct man-made climate change. We can take the same message to our state legislators, and urge the Unicameral to adopt the RPS at the state level.

Neither of these is likely to happen, however, until our utilities are on board, and thatís where participatory democracy can really shine. As I never tire of reminding you, Nebraska is the only state with 100% public power. That means we own it, and as owners, WE elect the directors of our public power districts and rural electric cooperatives. Our public power system takes its mandate from us, the owners. If we want clean, renewable energy, we can make it happen--not through "green pricing" where a few consumers pay more for clean energy, but by directing our power districts to grow their renewable energy portfolios to benefit us all.

About the author:

Sally Herrin, Ph.D., is education and communications director for the Nebraska Farmers Union and teaches writing at Southeast Community College, Lincoln NE. Her fiction and poetry have won state and national awards.

She has served on state energy task forces and as artist-in-residence for the Nebraska Arts Council. Since 1996, she has written an editorial column, which appears in The Nebraska Report and is reprinted in the Progressive Populist and in weekly and daily newspapers across Nebraska and the United States.