Other views: The goal: renewable economy
The world is running out of oil. As it does, the price will continue to rise as Third World nations, notably China and India, claim a larger and larger share of available supplies. Today, we import nearly two-thirds of our oil - twice as much as ...
The world is running out of oil. As it does, the price will continue to rise as Third World nations, notably China and India, claim a larger and larger share of available supplies. Today, we import nearly two-thirds of our oil - twice as much as in the early 1970s. And much of the world's known reserves are controlled by politically unstable or even hostile nations.
This declining supply and increasing cost of petroleum is serious. Our economy, indeed our very social structure, depends on readily available, cheap transportation for people and goods.
Agriculture - so vital to our state and nation - is especially vulnerable to rising fuel costs. Moreover, many of the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow and protect our crops are petroleum-based. A recent analysis by North Dakota State University shows that increased fuel costs may reduce net farm income by nearly 50 percent.
Yet agriculture may be our salvation. The United States has a vast potential for renewable energy - wind, biodiesel, ethanol and biomass. Nowhere is this more true than in North Dakota. But we must do much more to realize that potential.
Take ethanol. We currently produce about 35 millions gallons of ethanol, but South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska each produce more than 10 times that, and Iowa produces more than 30 times that figure. While these states all grow more corn than we do, they also convert 15 to 30 percent of their corn into ethanol. Only 10 percent of North Dakota corn is made into ethanol.
New North Dakota ethanol projects announced or under construction will help us close the gap. In the past year, companies have announced plans to build facilities to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol, 80 million gallons of biodiesel and 350 megawatts of wind power.
Much the same case could be made for biodiesel and wind power. Even though North Dakota is first in wind energy potential, we produce a mere fraction of the wind energy of California or Texas, and even when our new facilities go online, we will still produce less than half that of Minnesota.
North Dakota must establish aggressive renewable energy goals - goals that will be the foundation of sound public policy.
Why do I suggest an aggressive strategy? Because goals can lead to a stronger rural economy, broader tax base, more jobs and other benefits for all North Dakotans.
We only have to look to neighboring Minnesota to see what can be done.
With 14 ethanol plants in operation and more on the way, Minnesota is one of the top four ethanol-producing states. The industry accounts for more than 5,000 jobs and an economic impact of almost $1.5 billion. It also uses up 20 percent of the state's corn crop. Small wonder that Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants other states to adopt Minnesota's pioneering 10 percent ethanol standard - if they do, it would mean even more money for Minnesota.
North Dakota needs an energy policy that covers our entire energy spectrum - lignite, petroleum and renewables. We are on the cusp of significantly growing North Dakota's lignite coal industry with new clean coal technologies, including the ability to remove and beneficially use greenhouse gases. Our petroleum industry is on the rebound. Now, we need to drive the renewable energy sectors to complement our fossil fuel industries.
The third annual Renewable Energy Conference will be held Monday and Tuesday at the Ramada Plaza Suites in Fargo. The two-day event will include presentations and discussions on where North Dakota stands on renewable energy and what can be done to grow this industry.
Johnson is North Dakota commissioner of agriculture.