The latest farm bill seems to have something for everyone, including for the first time alternative energy producers. Some 400 million dollars has been set aside for research, development of new energy sources, and implementation of more efficient energy use.
With this in mind, the Environmental Law and Policy Center recently highlighted ways in which the frequently maligned farm bill could offer a brighter future for energy and Rural America.
Lloyd Ritter, Majority Counsel, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee: "The department of energy, DOE, estimates tripling the use of biomass could provide up to 20 billion dollars in new income for farmers and rural areas and generate 45 thousand megawatts of electricity by 2020. Wind power alone could provide 1.2 billion in new income and 80,0000 jobs."
In the short term, wind may offer the greatest potential for development in the Midwest. Much of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa have ideal wind energy zones. The Midwest already is home to one of the largest wind farms in the world. And, wind is by far the cheapest alternative energy source at 3 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour produced, only slightly more expensive than coal.
Beyond the environmental impact associated with a reduction in fossil fuel use, there also is an economic impact. Farmers who lease their land for turbines generally receive twenty-five hundred dollars or more annually for the roughly 1000 square feet of space and access road needed for the machines.
That kind of economic benefit may be the driving force behind the development of renewable energy. Provisions in the farm bill allow for use of conservation reserve program, or C-R-P, land for turbines without losing CRP payments. Likewise, switchgrass or other biomass fuels could add value to land by providing a new cash crop for production agriculture. By some estimates, if renewable energy sources were completely utilized, farmers could see value from the land rise by 33 to 50 percent.
Howard Learner, Executive Director Environmental Law and Policy Center: "The cash crops for farmers are becoming supported by farm groups, by environmentalists, by rural economic development groups and by the commodities associations. It's a winner in terms of economics.