The Community Policy Analysis Center

Balancing Energy, Economics and Environment

from Tom Johnson, CPAC Director
October 2007

If you’ve watched TV, listened to the radio, surfed the internet, or read any newspapers in the last year, you are aware of a growing interest in renewable energy sources in this country and around the world. Ethanol, biodiesel, wind energy, biopower and other renewables are offered daily as solutions to high energy costs, energy dependence, global warming, and declining rural areas.

We are learning more about this emerging industry every day. CPAC has been involved in renewable energy research and outreach throughout its 10-year history. Our interest has been in gaining a better understanding of the economic and policy issues in renewable energy and the potential role that this sector could play in our economy, especially in rural areas.

Solid research in this field will lead to faster adoption, faster economic successes, and more viable rural communities in Missouri and America. But, this industry must carefully balance our energy and economic goals with social and environmental concerns. Our quest for energy must not come with high environmental and social costs. We believe that, in the long run, renewable energy will be an important part of our total energy supply and that biopower, especially from waste such as crop and forestry residues, and from dedicated high energy crops produced on land with limited alternative uses, will be an important part of our renewable energy strategy.

Here at CPAC, we began looking into biodiesel in the mid-1990s and found it promising but not yet economically feasible. Next, we studies corn-based ethanol. In 2002, we published a report on ethanol production in Macon County. This study concluded that ethanol production could play an important role in the economies of rural areas by increasing farm incomes and creating a modest number of non-farm jobs.

Then in 2003 we started a series of research projects on Biopower production. Biopower is the generation of electricity from biomass. Biomass includes various types of agricultural and forestry products. This research resulted in a recent report on biopower for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Trends suggest that the economics of biopower will only improve, and that the industry will continue to grow for many years. Our biopower research is intended tosupport this anticipated growth with a calculator called the Biopower Tool Kit. The tool kit will help potential investors determine the feasibility of various types of biopower production facilities in any location in the country. The calculator predicts the sources of biomass, the profitability of various technologies and locations, the economic impacts and the environmental benefits. We are currently looking at two other aspects of this industry—how quickly this sector will grow and what farmers need to increase their supply of biomass.

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