The Harvesting Clean Energy Conference in Boise this week was a real eye-opener. More than 80 speakers shared their expertise on renewable energy with more than 600 attendees.
We heard from officials and folks from the private sector about progressive programs and the challenges and successes in their states.
For example, Minnesota n a leader in renewable fuels n produced 550 million gallons of ethanol from 16 plants in 2006, netting an estimated $2.77 billion in total economic impacts and generating more than 10,321 jobs. What’s more, taking into account plants coming online and planned expansions at existing facilities, capacity is expected to reach 1 billion gallons of production by 2008. That would generate about $4.95 billion in economic impacts and 18,461 jobs.
This picture today compares with a 1990 starting point of 11 million gallons of production, $28.1 million in economic impacts and 166 jobs.
That’s a real success story. And even better, many of the facilities are farmer or community owned, which further supports the vitality of the rural community.
The good news is that Idaho has huge potential for a renewable energy industry, and a diverse one at that n wind, ethanol, biodiesel, geothermal, biogas, and biomass.
The bad news is we’re lagging behind by a good 20 to 30 years, not just in the existence of facilities, but in legislative support, strategic planning and seeking out government funding.
The top point speakers drove home is that the first thing that must happen is the creation of markets. And that happens through legislative mandates and incentives. Idaho is woefully lacking in either when it comes to renewable energy. And we didn’t hear much from Sen. Kurt McKenzie, cochairman of the Idaho Interim Committee on Energy, Environment and Technology, to make us hopeful that anything is coming down the pike in the near future.
In fact, Idaho’s Legislature already shot down an attempt at a mandated renewable energy standard that would have required gasoline contain a percentage of ethanol. And the state’s energy plan is 25 years old. Granted the state is taking a look at updating it, but McKenzie was vague about what initiatives or legislation that update might encourage, saying the No.1 priority is conservation of energy.
The bottom line is renewable energy is the future, and Idaho desperately needs to get up to speed in this growing sector.