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Ag industry looks to 'green' power

(Friday, Feb. 14, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Julie Pence The Times-News (Twin Falls, ID), 02/11/03: BOISE -- The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation is literally stealing the wind from environmental groups by taking an active role in supporting renewable energy.

On Monday, more than 350 farmers met in Boise to hear about how to encourage ethanol production and generation of electricity through wind turbines at the eighth annual Idaho Ag Summit. At the Statehouse, legislators with a particular interest in agriculture and natural resources met with experts from other states that have successfully implemented green energy industries.

"For the past few years we have been looking into renewable energy, but we're really supporting it more lately," Farm Bureau lobbyist Russ Hendricks said.

It has the potential for a better return than traditional row crops, he pointed out. But also, over the past decade since the idea began gaining popularity, technology has become advanced enough that the concepts are becoming more economically attractive, he said.

But the key is setting state policies that encourage the development of renewable energy, experts explained. Such things as tax incentives and state mandates for energy companies to buy certain amounts of energy from "green"-energy producers are helpful. Another approach is to establish production payments for producers, though that has the potential to cause problems if producers are getting federal production tax credits, said Jeff Trucksess, who works for a Texas-based renewable energy investment company.

The experts pointed out that petroleum-based energy products have always been supported with tax incentives. They also said that natural gas, in particular, will only continue to increase in price while the cost of producing ethanol and wind power will decrease.

Texas is a state that is seeing such success in the establishment of wind farms that the Texas Public Utilities Commission is revising is energy transmission planning rules.

"In Texas, wind is a boom bumper crop," Trucksess said, noting that a farmer can make $2,000 per acre for leasing out his land for the use of wind turbines compared with $5 per acre for beef. And the farmer still has the use of most of his land, he added.

A Minnesota state legislator explained that growing corn to produce ethanol saved his community. Though corn production costs more in Idaho, Hendricks said the two companies planning ethanol plants in eastern Idaho and Mini-Cassia are convinced it will be boost economies in those areas.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, asked if odors are a problem with ethanol plants. Hendricks said they can give off the smell of baking bread or sometimes sort of a yeast-like beer smell. But the two that are being planned in Idaho most likely won't, because the mash that is left over after production will be immediately put to use feeding cattle. In the areas where the mash has to be dried, an odor can occur. Hendricks also noted that the Environmental Protection Agency requires that expensive equipment used to diminish odor is installed in all new ethanol plants.

As for the potential of noise pollution with wind turbines, Hendricks said he has been around commercial-sized turbines that make no more noise than a household refrigerator when a person is standing next to one. A half a mile away, they can't be heard. Smaller models that a producer might use for his own electricity purposes are noisier, he said.