Less dependence

Agricultural community undergoing 'paradigm shift' when it comes to alternative energy sources

Agricultural use of alternative energy sources like wind, ethanol, biodiesel and biomass makes financial sense for farmers, stimulates local economies and reduces America's dependence on foreign oil, the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture said.

John Stulp, who Gov. Bill Ritter appointed in December 2006, made a presentation on the convergence of agriculture and energy in Colorado during the afternoon session of Friday's energy summit at the Holiday Inn of Craig.

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His presentation outlined the benefits of using alternative energy for the state's agricultural and rural communities.

In recent years, there's been a "paradigm shift" in how farmers incorporate alternative energy into their operations, he said.

"Or a huge change in the way we think about growing our own fuel and energy," said Stulp, a farmer in Prowers County, a former Prowers County commissioner and former member of the State Board of Agriculture and State Wildlife Commission.

Using wind for energy provides direct help to agriculture because it does not require water and each kilowatt generated reduces the need for fossil fuels, thereby saving it for future generations, Stulp said.

A drawback of wind power, he said, lies in its unpredictability, which makes it unreliable for commerce.

Ethanol, a biofuel alternative blended with gasoline to reduce consumption of petroleum fuels, provides a new market for corn farmers. The crop is one of several associated with ethanol production.

It can also stimulate a rural community by creating jobs related to production and, again, reduces dependence on foreign oil, Stulp said, a common theme to his presentation.

"Keep in mind, we're not having to send any troops into Iowa to pick the corn fields," he said.

A negative component of ethanol production is the amount of water needed. Stulp estimated 5 gallons of water are needed to produce a gallon of ethanol.

"You've got to locate the (production) plants close to a water source and have the rights to the water source," Stulp said. "There is a trade-off on the water."

Biodiesel refers to a processed fuel derived from biological sources, namely vegetable oil. Biomass is organic material -- wood, garbage, crops, alcohol fuels, landfill gasses -- that can be used as fuel.

Stulp said American prosperity is tied to its "efficient and affordable food supply," and because agriculture is a big consumer of energy, keeping energy costs minimal relates to food prices.

The closer farming comes to cheaper energy, the better it is for both farmers and consumers, he said.

In another afternoon session, Carol Tombari, of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, discussed renewable energy and energy efficiency for businesses and consumers.

Tombari works on rural economic development with the NREL, and was previously self-employed with a firm specializing in public policy and programs related to energy efficiency, renewable energy and environmental impacts of energy.

She said America's economy is behind only Canada as the most energy dependent in the world.

Inefficiencies causing power shutdowns are detrimental to businesses, Tombari said, citing millions of dollars in lost revenue to stock brokerages and credit card companies for every hour power is lost.

"That's lost business," she said.

America's energy challenges are "enormous," Tombari said, but new technologies and a "silver buckshot" approach to, and emphasizing efficiency on a broad scale, can help solve the problem.

She said energy efficiency is key for the U.S., particularly in buildings, where 71 percent of the nation's electricity is used.

Tombari recommended constructing buildings with a low-end energy design and outfitting buildings with efficient equipment as steps vital to lowering energy uses, and reducing expenses. She also advocated replacing incandescent lights with light-emitting diodes.

Additional steps could be installing urban turbans, using peak load shaving systems, or solar panels, she said.

Ultimately, the key to widespread efficiency is placing the overall value of energy efficiency above the payback, she said.

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