Recess Offers Chance to Share Value of Renewable Energy Benefits with Lawmakers

With their two-week Easter recess under way, members of Congress are back home using the time away from Washington to visit with, and hear from, constituents about the issues that concern them and impact their lives.

We urge renewable energy advocates to make good use of this time and reach out to their elected officials. This is a prime opportunity to press for legislation that promotes policies, budgets, funding mechanisms and tax reforms for the clean alternatives that boost local economies, enhance the nation’s energy security and leave a reduced carbon footprint.

Renewable energy advocates hardly represent a small, special interest. Earlier this year, a survey by the nonpartisan and highly respected Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of Americans give priority to developing alternative energy sources, compared with 27 percent who would emphasize expanded production of fossil fuel sources.

As can be expected, just more than 80 percent of the Democrats surveyed supported a push for renewables. However, even with a GOP-controlled White House that has made the increased development of oil, gas and coal a priority, Republicans polled in the Pew survey were split, with those supporting alternative energy sources holding a slight edge at 45 percent compared to 44 percent that were in favor of expanding fossil fuel production.

A few months ago, a survey conducted by the Republican polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies, found that 75 percent of the voters who supported President Trump at the polls last November, favored “action to accelerate the deployment and use of clean energy” such as solar, and wind, along with energy efficiency and community renewable projects.

Even within a conservative state like North Carolina, surveys done in each of the past three years – including one done in late February – by an issues management firm run by two long-time Republican political consultants showed that more than 80 percent of the state’s population said they would more likely vote for a candidate “who supports policies that encourage renewable energy options such as wind, solar and waste to energy technologies.”

The polls continually show that clean energy is not a partisan issue. American voters across the political spectrum are adamantly supportive of the vast economic benefits being generated by renewable energy development.

A very recent case in point is research released late last month by the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewables Center (BRC) showing that infrastructure upgrades and market improvements are drawing major corporate energy buyers to the Southwest Power Pool market (SPP). The SPP manages the electric grid and wholesale energy market for the central United States, extending across 14 states from the Texas Panhandle north to the Canadian border in Montana.

In fact, the research shows two-thirds of the corporate power purchase agreement (PPA) volume signed to date has occurred in a Great Plains state like Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Here, companies can use the booming availability of wind energy driven by technological advances and falling costs to ensure they meet their growing need for electricity at a stable, long-term price. This stability provides a boost to a company’s bottom line, which means more long-term jobs.

It is little wonder that North Carolina voters support renewables to the wide extent that’s demonstrated in the surveys previously mentioned here. According to the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness, the state has the same amount of sun exposure as other states in the South, but has attracted a disproportionate share of solar industry investment – ranking it first in the region – due in large part to friendly policies. North Carolina is home to more than 450 companies involved in the solar industry. According to the most recent Solar Foundation jobs census, those companies provide more than 7,100 jobs, while the sector overall generates up to $2 billion in direct investment in the state.

That conservative bedrocks like Iowa and Kansas are currently getting nearly a third and more than 20 percent, respectively, of their electricity from renewable resources. This clearly shows that the expansion of clean energy is taking place all across the nation, especially in the rural heartland that widely supported President Trump. And it cannot be emphasized enough that across the energy sector, the clean energy industry employs far more American workers than the fossil fuel industry, by a margin of more than 2.5 to 1, according to DOE jobs data.

The 25x’25 Alliance calls on advocates to do the research and arm themselves with the data that clearly shows how renewables offers cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy (resources for state-level information can be found online for solar, wind, hydropower and biodiesel, among other sectors). Take those facts and meet with your elected representatives while they are home during this recess. Make the case that they have the opportunity and prerogative to return to Washington and secure for their congressional districts – and beyond – a momentous step forward in our nation’s energy future.

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Solar Interests, Utilities, State Regulators Join to Pursue Clean Energy

Even with the degree of uncertainty in the future promotion of renewable energy by the federal government, sparks of clean energy growth are continuously appearing in states across the country. Political, business and consumer leaders are working together at the state level to move their constituencies away from the archaic status quo pushed by legacy energy interests that have yet to embrace the new energy future and are driven by what some jokingly call “100-year business plans.”

Forward-thinking policy makers are recognizing that clean energy in this country has moved well beyond the tipping point, and it is fast becoming the chosen means to meet our nation’s future energy needs. In 2016, the addition of new wind, solar, biomass and geothermal power-generating capacity was nearly twice as much as that brought online by the construction of power plants fueled by natural gas and coal.

Reinforcing the move to clean energy are the economic benefits derived from renewables. An analysis of 2017 DOE jobs data shows that across the energy sector, the clean energy industry employs far more American workers than the fossil fuel industry, by a margin of more than 2.5 to 1; and they outnumber all jobs in coal and natural gas by 5 to 1.

We also saw in February that investments in clean energy continue to surge. sPower, a leading independent power producer that owns and/or operates more than 150 utility and distributed electrical generation systems across the United States and the UK, was sold to AES, one of the world’s leading power companies, for $1.6 billion, making it one of the biggest deals in green energy history.

The progress toward a cleaner energy future is manifesting itself on a number of fronts, but among the more visible policy arenas are states where regulators, legislators, the solar industry and even many utility leaders are making efforts to better accommodate the growing reach of distributed solar generation, mostly in the form of residential rooftop systems.

Net metering – the practice of homeowners selling the excess electricity they generate from their solar panels back to the utility – has been the source of testy debates before state public utility commissions, as well as sparked some lawsuits. Some utilities have argued that customers with solar systems are not paying their fair share of the fixed costs of infrastructure maintenance and other grid support services, thereby increasing the financial burden on non-solar ratepayers. Solar interests say residential installations actually provide a net benefit by reducing the need to construct or purchase more power sources, cutting electricity prices for all by reducing peak demand on the grid, as well as improving air quality and public health through avoided fossil fuel emissions and associated social costs.

Those debates continue in some states. The legislature in Indiana, a state powered largely by coal, is considering a bill that would phase out net metering compensation, and Missouri lawmakers have legislation pending that would allow utilities to impose a stiff monthly fee on solar customers. Furthermore, the Arkansas Public Service Commission will soon consider replacing traditional net metering with a rate structure that reduces the value of private sector investments in clean energy. Each are considerable threats to solar users and any additional growth of solar in the two states.

However, there are other examples that are better reflective of the growing collaboration among regulators, utilities and solar advocates in states across the country – from New York to Colorado to California – including recent developments in Nevada and Arizona.

In Nevada, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is giving some 8,000 customers with applications for rooftop solar systems until July 1st to opt into net metering rates. Considering that 17 months ago, the PUC voted to end net metering, the latest announcement by the state represents a major solar-development turnaround. That PUC vote in December 2015 prompted a national controversy, as well as the loss of jobs in Nevada and the replacement of two PUC members. But last September, the commission voted to restore net metering to existing solar customers, and later, the PUC, NV Energy, SolarCity, Sunrun and other installers reached an agreement to allow the customers with active applications to opt into the net metering rate.

Last year regulators in Arizona voted to end net metering, but the course on solar remuneration has changed just in the last month. With the help of regulatory staff, the state’s principal utility, in collaboration with solar energy, consumer and environmental interests, filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission a proposed settlement on net metering that could end more than five years of acrid debate. The settlement calls for the rate of compensation paid to rooftop solar customers to drop slightly from retail rates, and will grandfather for the next 20 years existing solar customers and applicants who file before a decision is reached. Owners of new solar systems would see the compensation rate gradually drop.

The kind of collaborative work being done by regulators, solar interests and customers in Nevada, Arizona and other states is producing opportunities for renewable energy growth, and demonstrates the strong willingness of the players to cooperate over tough issues. We commend these interests at the state and local levels for doing the hard work necessary to keep the nation moving toward a clean energy future.

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Out-of-Touch Federal Policies Will Not Deter Growth of Clean Energy

Seeking to weaken EPA’s authority to regulate carbon, while boosting domestic energy production from fossil fuels, President Trump this week signed an executive order that suspended, rescinded or flagged for review more than a half-dozen standing regulations and other measures.

As had been expected, one of the initiatives the White House’s executive order aims to undo is the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a key element of the Obama administration’s plan for meeting carbon emission reduction targets expressed under the international climate agreement reached in Paris in December 2015.

The CPP calls on states to develop strategies to reduce specific amounts of carbon emissions from existing – mostly coal-fueled – and new power plants. The move was expected to drive the expanded development of clean energy alternatives, including wind, solar, biomass and other technologies.

The president’s executive order puts the CPP “under review,” a first step toward what is expected to be the dismantlement of the rule. The review is also expected to lead to an end of the government’s defense of the plan in federal court, where more than two dozen states had filed a lawsuit to stop its enforcement.

At the heart of the White House order, which also lifts a moratorium of coal leases on federal lands and ends a standing directive to federal agencies to factor in the social cost of carbon in setting new regulations and approving projects, is the president’s campaign promise to turn back regulations he said were sending the coal industry in decline.

However, industry analysts have been relatively unanimous in their assessment, as expressed by a recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, that the U.S. coal industry is not on a path to recovery in the short or the long term, due to market dynamics unrelated to regulation. The institute and other mainstream analysts also point out that the industry will continue to suffer from declining demand, low prices, and its inability to compete with natural gas and renewable energy. Even a major CEO in the coal industry acknowledges that coal mining jobs cannot recover to pre-Obama numbers.

In its efforts to boost the coal industry and other fossil fuel development, the White House is missing the reality of a sector fast making the transition to cleaner, renewable alternatives that customers are demanding. The White House strategy should focus instead on the example of Texas under Gov. Rick Perry and consider the opportunity for U.S. leadership to grow an industry that can bring America and other nations the benefits of clean energy.

DOE data shows clean energy jobs currently outnumber all fossil fuel jobs in this country by a margin of 2.5:1. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission numbers for 2016 show that for the second year in a row, new renewable electrical capacity exceeded that from gas, coal, oil and nuclear combined, and almost one-fifth of the nation’s total generating capacity now comes from renewables.

The sheer economics of the move to clean energy would seem to render the White House efforts moot. Yet this order is costing the administration the opportunity to further a lower-carbon economy that not only produces cleaner energy, but is driving explosive economic growth, especially in rural America where the large majority of wind farms, solar facilities and biomass-fueled power plants are located, creating jobs and generating tax revenues to help maintain schools and build roads.

The White House strategy also represents an abdication of the U.S. leadership role in the world, costing America the ability to help guide other nations toward the future benefits of clean energy and creating a void that could be filled by other world powers hurting the American economy.

Still, on the home front, states are continuing to take a leadership role through Renewable Portfolio Standards, tax credits and other policy mechanisms that are helping to continue to push the domestic growth of clean energy. And corporate America remains a significant proponent of renewable energy development, setting their own clean energy targets, with most building their own renewable power sources or entering into long-term Power Purchase Agreements from clean energy providers.

Even if federal policy does ignore the reality in the marketplace, states, corporations and advocates across all geographical and political spectrums, like 25x’25, will continue to pursue the clean energy goals that can create jobs, boost our economy, enhance our national security, and make our world a better place to live.

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Perdue Confirmation Hearing Underscores Role of Ag in the 21st Century

Today a confirmation hearing for President Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, is finally taking place. Assuming he is eventually confirmed by the Senate, he will take the helm of a federal agency whose constituencies and mission are far broader than what most Americans assume.

Twenty-first century agriculture is much different than 20th century agriculture when many of the current federal policies, programs and other initiatives were enacted. Today the U.S. agriculture sector produces much more than the food, feed and fiber needed to sustain our economy and quality of life. It also provides clean, renewable energy; biodiversity that enhances habitats; stewardship of natural, sustainable resources; and in most cases, a line of defense in efforts to reduce global emissions that contribute to a changing climate. In providing safe, abundant and affordable products, farmers, ranchers and foresters continue to serve an essential role in maintaining a strong economy, especially in rural areas.

USDA assumes the wide and complex responsibility of enabling agricultural and forestry producers to viably generate from the land these important solutions to our society’s needs.

Once in office, Perdue will manage a department with diverse mandates, from managing federal lands through the U.S. Forest Service to managing the nation’s food stamp program. For the energy sector, he will oversee USDA’s Rural Development Office and renewable energy programs. Funding for these programs is not particularly large, relative to other federal budget outlays. But these programs offer opportunities for investment in renewable energy and innovative energy projects across rural America.

Conservation efforts by farmers, ranchers and forest owners today means a thriving and sustainable agriculture for our future. Seventy percent of the nation’s land is privately owned and the conservation of private lands not only results in healthy soil, water, air, plants, animals and ecosystems, it also provides productive and sustainable working lands.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality (an enhanced offshoot of CRP focuses on conservation issues identified by both government and non-governmental organizations). The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) provides funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to restore farmland damaged by natural disasters and for emergency water conservation measures in severe droughts, while an Emergency Forest Restoration Program offers similar assistance to forestland owns. The Farmable Wetlands Program (FWP) also offers land owners annual rental payment to restore wetlands and wetland buffer zones that are farmed, while the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) pays farmers a rental payment to prevent grazing and pasture land from being converted into cropland or used for urban development. The Source Water Protection Program (SWPP) is designed to protect surface and ground water used as drinking water by rural residents.

On the energy front, USDA administers the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which provides financial assistance in the form of grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and small business for purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in rural locations. The Business and Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program is designed to assist credit-worthy rural businesses in obtaining needed credit for most any legal business purpose, including energy projects. The Rural Utility Services (RUS) Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP) provides loans to entities that agree to make affordable loans to help consumers implement cost-effective, energy efficiency measures. Similar to the RESP program, the RUS Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP) allows rural electric cooperatives and utilities to borrow money and re-lend it to help homeowners or businesses make energy efficiency improvements. And there is the so-called “9003” programs, which provides guaranteed loans for the development and construction of commercial-scale facilities or the retrofitting of existing facilities for the development of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals and biobased products.

The intent of these programs, many of which pre-date the Obama administration, is to save and create jobs in rural America. Given the strong support President Trump received in rural America, we would expect – and call on incoming Secretary Perdue to ensure – that these programs to remain in place and assist investment interests in overcoming market barriers to rural energy development. We believe these and other programs the new agriculture secretary will oversee should continue to be key policy tools for rural development, generating job creation and economic development.

In providing safe, abundant and affordable products, America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters continue to serve an essential role in maintaining a strong economy, especially in rural areas. The 25x’25 Alliance extends our best wishes of success to the presumed agriculture secretary and we pledge our assistance in keeping rural America productive and the major economic engine it can – and should – be.

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White House Budget Proposal Endangers Clean Energy Efforts and Rural America

President Trump this week unveiled his first budget plan, a $1.1-trillion, 62-page “blueprint” that calls for massive cuts to programs important to rural America and renewable energy interests.

The new budget proposal is more a statement of Trump’s priorities than a detailed spending plan, emphasizing the need for a military buildup at the expense of domestic spending. A more detailed, line-item budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, is expected to be sent to Congress by the White House later this spring and offer more specific cuts. The outline published Thursday – “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” – would cut or scrap funding for virtually anything that does not “advance the safety and security of the American people.”

But there is time to remind the president that security can also come from a growing economy, which can be sustained through policies and programs targeted by his proposal that, in fact, promote the development of clean energy and the jobs and increased incomes that come with it. Congress now must rescue the worthy programs at risk in this initial blueprint.

The president’s “safety and security” message at the heart of his budget plan is demonstrated by his call to increase military spending by $54 billion and to build a wall along the border with Mexico – a structure that has been estimated to cost anywhere from $12 billion to $25 billion, depending upon the source being quoted.

Unfortunately, DOE spending under the budget plan issued Thursday would be cut by $1.7 billion, or 5.6 percent. The proposal would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), despite vast success the program has had in driving new energy technologies that would otherwise have been too risky for the private sector to undertake. Since 2009, ARPA-E has awarded more than $1.5 billion for more than 500 projects, which, in turn, have attracted $1.8 billion in funding from the private sector.

The Trump budget plan would also slash some $900 million – or about 20 percent – from DOE’s Office of Science. While no specifics have been offered, the plan says the cuts will ensure the department “continues to invest in the highest priority basic science and energy research and development as well as operation and maintenance of existing scientific facilities for the community.”

The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is among a number of energy research offices expected to be cut to achieve what the plan calls a focus “on limited, early-stage applied energy research and development activities where the federal role is stronger.”

USDA is facing a $4.7-billion cut – or 21 percent – down to $17.9 billion. Longstanding farm energy initiatives like the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), are not specifically mentioned in the budget plan, but, given the massive scale of the overall department spending reduction, can be expected to face huge cuts when a detailed proposal is issued in the next couple of months.

Facing even larger cuts proportionately under the Trump proposal is EPA, where funding would be slashed by 31 percent, down to $5.65 billion, and agency staff would be cut by more than 3,000 employees, a drop of more than 20 percent.

EPA’s Office of Research and Development would see its funding drop roughly by more than half in the next fiscal year, from $512 million to $250 million. A big focus of that cutback will be the agency’s clean energy programs, including renewable energy programs like AgStar, which promotes the use of biogas recovery systems to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste; and energy efficiency initiatives like Energy Star, a joint program of EPA and DOE that promotes efficient choices that can save money on energy bills, with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions.

While the White House budget proposal paints a rather bleak picture for those who have championed federal policies that promote a cleaner, renewable energy future and the economic and security benefits that come with them, some encouragement must be taken from the reaction to the budget plan from key congressional leaders, who say much of what is offered in the “blueprint” is “dead on arrival.”

It is the hope and belief of 25x’25 that by working with clean energy advocates in Congress, governors who recognize the value of clean energy to their states, and corporations that recognize the boost renewable energy gives their bottom lines, the president will come to see that to achieve the economic and environmental goals he has espoused (most recently in last week’s speech to a joint session of Congress), the policies and federal investment that support the clean energy sector must be maintained or strengthened.

We would also point out – again – that rural America is a primary beneficiary of these policies and the jobs and economic boost they promote. Rural Americans will hold the president to promises he made to improve their way of life after they helped get him elected to the White House.

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U.S. Military Continues Push for Renewables

An extensive analysis published earlier this month by Reuters news service offers in full detail the reasons why clean energy alternatives continue to be pursued by what can best be described as the largest special interest in this country – the Department of Defense.

The military’s ongoing, aggressive support for cleaner alternatives in powering vehicles, planes, ships, installations and operations offers welcome and reliable reassurances to renewable energy stakeholders and advocates in this time of energy policy uncertainty at the national level.

In compiling its story, Reuters was told by senior military officials that the nation’s armed forces remain committed to an effort to transition high fuel-demand operations to renewable power, citing logistical reasons that have remained unchanged since the move to shift power sources began more than a decade ago.

The U.S. armed forces are the nation’s single largest consumer of energy. Twenty percent of the military’s energy consumption occurs at its installations and the Defense Department pays around $4 billion annually to provide power to its 300,000 plus facilities in the United States and around the world.

The U.S. military uses more oil than any other organization in the world, powering everything from tanks to fighter jets to Humvees to generators. The military’s dependence on oil and its variability, despite increases in domestic production, continues to be identified as a national security threat.

Defense officials and military officers say there is no real control over this single source of energy, and U.S. reliance on oil empowers countries and regimes hostile to the United States. Furthermore, because oil is traded globally, the risk posed by vulnerable trade routes – and the cost of protecting those routes – is a constant threat to U.S. security. And, as was learned during the military’s engagements in Afghanistan earlier in the last decade, delivering that oil on the battlefield is a dangerous job – one in every 24 fuel convoys there ended with a casualty.

Given those concerns, the pursuit of clean energy alternatives is an operational imperative. The deployable and decentralized energy production possibilities offered by renewable sources, and by enabling technologies like microgrids, have tremendous implications for the safety, security and effectiveness of the military. Military leaders point out that renewable energy and efficiency improvements can increase warfighter capability, enhance the energy security of its installations, and cut operational and military base energy costs.

The Pentagon’s deployment of biofuel-blended aviation and shipping fuels, or gas-electric hybrid battleships stand to reduce petroleum consumption by the world’s largest single oil buyer.

The Reuters story notes a Defense Department report showing the military nearly doubled renewable power generation between 2011 and 2015, to 10,534 billion British thermal units, or enough to power about 286,000 average U.S. homes. The number of military renewable energy projects nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015.

That kind of growth has the benefit of boosting the private sector economy, generating contracts with solar, wind, biofuel, energy storage and other clean energy providers, which, in turn, create tens of thousands of jobs.

Military officials also are aware that bases independently powered by renewables don’t fall vulnerable when natural disasters, physical attacks or cyber attacks take down the public grid.

The military appears set to continue demonstrating innovation and leadership by building on a commitment made by the Pentagon nearly a decade ago to meet 25 percent of its facility energy needs with renewable resources by 2025. It helps that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is a longtime proponent of reducing the military’s dependence on petroleum, citing his service as Commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. In 2003, he called on the Navy to find ways to release troops from the “tether of fuel.”

What the U.S. military has accomplished over the years through the pursuit of its own 25x’25 goal serves as demonstrable proof to our nation’s policy makers of the need for domestically produced, clean energy sources. By supporting new fuels, low- and no-carbon power sources, and stronger efficiency standards, the nation’s military shows the value of clean energy to all Americans.

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Clean Energy Programs Can Help Meet Goals Espoused by the President

President Trump was generally lauded for the tone of his speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, when he offered a more positive and optimistic assessment of the nation’s future than he had in his inaugural address or while on the campaign trail. Still, there were few specifics given as to how his administration will move into what he called a “new chapter of American Greatness,” particularly regarding his energy strategy.

His remarks reiterated his long-expressed desire to protect and grow manufacturing jobs in the country, and he said his administration “wants to work with members in both parties…to promote clean air and clear water.”

To those ends, we would suggest the president look to clean energy solutions as a pathway to the manufacturing, and air and water quality improvements he is seeking. This will require maintaining and enhancing key enabling policies and programs at USDA and DOE.

The president is preparing his fiscal 2018 budget proposal for presentation to Congress in about two weeks. An outline was sent to federal agencies Monday with “suggested” areas for spending reductions at each. Initial reports indicate the White House will seek huge increases in military spending, paid for in part with some $54 billion in discretionary spending cuts at most other agencies. (EPA spending would reportedly be cut by 24 percent, mostly at the enforcement level in Washington.)

As with the speech to Congress, there are no real specifics in the budget plan as to how these proposed cuts would be achieved. But we have made the case before – and continue to make it here – that the nation’s clean energy sector has become critical in its provision of economic benefits, (i.e. jobs) as well as environmental advantages, including improved water and air.

So, it only makes sense that to achieve the economic and environmental goals espoused by the president in his speech, the policies and federal investment that support the clean energy sector must be maintained or strengthened. It’s also important for the White House to remember that principal beneficiaries of these programs are rural Americans, a constituency that played a key role in Trump’s election last November after promises he made to improve their way of life.

The administration would do well to maintain support for farm bill energy programs, which have already seen mandatory spending cuts of nearly 50 percent per year since the 2008 Farm Bill. Lawmakers are conducting hearings now as they begin drafting the 2018 legislation that will authorize farm, food and, to a large extent, renewable energy policy for the five years to come. We hope the White House will join rural Americans in supporting these important policies.

For example, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides significant incentives for farmers, livestock producers and rural small businesses to make energy efficiency improvements, and to purchase or install renewable energy systems. REAP also generates much-needed job and economic benefits in every state, serves all agricultural sectors, and leverages private investment at a cost-sharing rate of more than three-to-one. Still, the 2014 Farm Bill dropped mandatory funding for REAP by 22 percent compared to what was provided in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The Biorefinery Assistance Program, which provides financial incentives for the development of commercial-scale advanced biorefineries, is an initiative that helps reduce investor risk for emerging technologies and, like REAP, supports good-paying, American jobs. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which has repeatedly been under assault by appropriators, provides financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and private forestland who are working to establish and produce sustainable, non-food, biomass feedstocks for delivery to advanced biorefineries.

Beyond the farm bill, DOE renewable energy and energy efficiency programs have been subject to funding threats through annual water and energy development spending bills. And now advocates of research funding for innovative energy projects like the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program fear it may face cuts from White House budget writers. That’s despite vast success in driving new energy technologies that would otherwise have been too risky for the private sector to undertake. Since 2009, ARPA-E has awarded more than $1.5 billion for more than 500 projects, which, in turn, have attracted $1.8 billion in funding from the private sector.

25x’25 strongly urges stakeholders to remind the White House and lawmakers that these farm bill and DOE programs should receive priority consideration within a budget that strictly adhere to principles of fiscally responsible, as well as homegrown development. The programs are important to securing the contribution that agriculture and rural America can, and should, make to our national energy strategy, and they also represent modest investments that are producing huge economic and technological returns. They must be preserved.

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Balance Needed in Meeting Transportation Fuel Challenges of the Future

As it does every year, the National Ethanol Conference this week in San Diego generated a considerable amount of policy discussion. Highlighting that talk was the arrival of a letter from President Trump reiterating his strong support for ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

While ethanol industry leaders have insisted since the election that Trump will stay committed to campaign promises he made in Iowa early in the campaign to support ethanol and the RFS, that confidence was somewhat shaken within the sector after the president nominated several high-profile RFS critics to his cabinet and White House staff.

But there was a collective sigh of relief from those in San Diego this week, as Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen read to the conference Trump’s letter, which stated: “Rest assured that your president and this administration values the importance of renewable fuels to America’s economy and to our energy independence. As I emphasized throughout my campaign, renewable fuels are essential to America’s energy strategy.”

The missive offers some certainty to the future of biofuels as a significant element in the nation’s transportation fuel supply. Still, some concerns remain, as were expressed in other discussions coming out of San Diego about the growth rate of electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S. market and the future implications that this growth could have on both the biofuels and oil industries.

In addition to the transportation fuel policy discussions in San Diego, there have also been increasing calls from the nation’s automakers for the new administration to revisit the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. One of the last acts of the Obama administration was to give final approval of standards that call for light duty cars and trucks to achieve, on average, 51.4 miles per gallon by 2025, despite industry claims that the standards could prove unrealistic and require further review of current and future technologies.

At the heart of all of these discussions, is the basic challenge for those in the transportation fuel and auto industries to best meet the desire from a growing consumer market for diverse, efficient, dependable, cost-saving means of mobility. It’s important for policy makers to understand that when facing choices, rarely is there a “silver bullet.” Those interests touting single solutions (EVs or reverting to 100 percent petroleum gasoline, as examples), need to remember that consumers want choices.

There are vehicles available to meet a wide variety of personal preferences, whether they be electric vehicles, hybrid (fuel and electric) vehicles, flex-fuel vehicles and, as seen in recent times of low oil prices, larger vehicles like full-size trucks and SUVs. But they all must meet the demands of consumers driven by economic considerations, the need for long-term reliability and the pursuit of a reduced environmental footprint.

Automakers and fuel providers need increased clarity on the long-term objective so they can design solutions to meet these targets. Going forward, these market demand forces will become increasingly more important. Attention needs to be paid to what consumers are looking for – flexibility, choice, efficiency and, yes, cleaner vehicles.

While some in the policy debate are dismissive of some pathways (the oil industry has made its objections to EVs fairly clear), a better way forward is to embrace a pathway that provides the benefit of efficiency without imposing a single “solution” for everyone.

From its origins, the 25x’5 Alliance has held that renewable energy is part of a mix of sources needed in the decades to come to power our cars, trucks, planes, homes, businesses and industries. Fossil fuels will be a constant in our energy future through much of this century. The role of policy makers and stakeholders must be to find the right balance of all resources that meet the energy, economic and environmental challenges ahead.

One course of action being touted by biofuel advocates and the auto industry is to put more focus on the composition of fuels to best deliver on the engine technologies that can best meet fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards in the decades to come. By putting greater emphasis on how, and what types of fuels the engines of cars and light trucks can burn best, regulators will ensure consumers that they are using more efficient, more economic and more environmentally friendly transportation fuels.

While technology is still emerging, we know that high-octane, low-carbon (HOLC) fuels – particularly those that contain blends of ethanol in the 25-30-percent range – represent an important pathway to meeting future goals. The research from DOE’s national laboratories makes very clear that major engine-efficiency and emission-reduction benefits can be derived from midrange, ethanol-blend, HOLC fuels. The combination of HOLC fuels and higher compression engines can enable a compliance pathway that is much more cost-effective than many other more expensive and complex technologies.

We urge policy makers and regulators to take a more universal look and find realistic solutions to the nation’s transportation fuel challenges of the future. Those solutions, including HOLC ethanol-blend fuels, can best serve to boost the economy, enhance our energy security and improve the quality of our air.

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Maryland Recognizes Critical Role States Can Play in Ag Energy Solutions

This week, the Maryland governor and agriculture secretary toured a state-subsidized, pilot, on-farm manure-to-energy project on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The project burns poultry litter that heats the poultry house while also reducing humidity and ammonia. It also underscores the role states can play in helping ag producers produce clean energy, meet their stewardship responsibilities and even potentially open new revenue streams for their operations.

The system that Gov. Larry Hogan and Ag Secretary Joe Bartenfelder saw on Monday uses the litter from 160,000 chickens to produce an array of value-added benefits including heat, electricity, an improved environment for the birds, and a potentially high-value concentrated phosphorous fertilizer by-product. The facility at the Double Trouble Farm, which opened in December, represents one of several manure-to-energy projects that the state is funding to reduce poultry-related nutrients from entering storm water runoff and impacting the Chesapeake Bay.

The facility compliments the work being done by the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge (DLLC), an ongoing initiative facilitated by 25x’25’s parent organization, Solutions from the Land, to improve the management of poultry-related nutrients by focusing on issues related to the storage, transport and land application of poultry litter on the Delmarva Peninsula.

During the tour and ribbon cutting ceremony at the Double Trouble Farm on Monday participants saw a system in which the builder and operator of the system, Ireland-based Biomass Heating Solutions Inc. (BHSL), uses electricity generating technology to process poultry litter into energy for heating two of four poultry houses on the farm. Adding “dry” heat to poultry houses has been proven at other sites to improve the flock growth rate and overall bird health – benefits that will enhance potential profit margins, reduce payback period for the technology and improve the likelihood of transferability to other poultry operations.

While the innovative technology aims to reduce the environmental impact of the poultry litter, the farm’s owners hope the system will generate additional revenue. They are working with BHSL to explore markets for the high-phosphorus, ash by-product, including outreach to regional fertilizer companies.

Overall, the system will reduce energy costs through the use of manure as a fuel source for heating poultry houses; improve animal welfare and reduce the risk of diseases; help the birds to reach target weight more quickly; and potentially expand producer revenue streams through earnings from the sale of excess electricity and the fertilizer by-product.

The Double Trouble system was made possible in large part due to a $970,000 animal waste technology grant from the Maryland Department of Agriculture to BHSL, the firm that built the manure-to-energy project. The company has also received an additional $139,000 from the state to monitor its operation for one year. Simultaneously, the University of Maryland is tracking data from the project and helping with other testing.

At the heart of Maryland’s support for innovative technologies that address agricultural residues is the state’s Animal Waste Technology Fund, a grant program that provides seed funding to companies that demonstrate innovative technologies to manage or repurpose manure resources. To date, the program has approved $3.7 million in grants to six projects.

Also to be commended are Bob, J.B. and Brad Murphy, the owners of Double Trouble, who, in the words of Bartenfelder, have taken “the time and risk involved in being the test case for a promising new way of doing business.”

The collaboration that is shown with this project between producers, the state of Maryland, academia and businesses is quite impressive. The 25x’25 Alliance urges officials and stakeholders in other states to study the model established in Maryland, taking to heart the principles that there are ways to meet daunting energy and environmental challenges with forward-thinking, sustainable solutions.

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MN Water Initiative Reflects Multiple Benefits of a 25x'25 Future

This week, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announced a proposal aimed at improving the state’s water quality by 25 percent by the year 2025. Given that water quality in the state is currently on track to only improve by about 8 percent by 2034, Dayton’s goal is respectfully ambitious. Yet we believe it is an extremely attainable target.

Without adding any new regulations, Dayton’s “25x’25” plan would rely on public engagement and diverse stakeholder collaboration bringing together local governments, farmers, scientists, business leaders and environmentalists. These partnerships will have the flexibility to devise the strategies and means needed to address water quality challenges in each of the state’s eight watershed regions.

Dayton’s policy initiative in Minnesota shares more than just a name with our 25x’25 Vision that would enable America’s farms, ranches and forestlands to meet 25 percent of this nation’s energy needs with renewable energy by 2025. They both aim to better the public good through initiatives that leave our world a better place.

While the clean energy and energy efficiency goals being pursued under the 25x’25 Vision offer both economic and national security benefits, it also aims to enhance our environment. Both the Dayton initiative and the 25x’25 Vision promote diverse stakeholder commitment to efforts that boost our water quality, expand clean water access, promote biodiversity, support conservation, and even contribute to the mitigation of soil erosion.

Criticism of renewable energy solutions – usually from traditional energy interests and some misguided environmental zealots – often cites dubious claims of catastrophic harm to natural resources. For example, ethanol production has long been the target of charges that it wastes water, denigrates soil quality and has a large carbon footprint.

But ethanol stakeholders have demonstrated over and over that the biofuel offers net benefits that far exceed the resources that go into making it. Just last month, the USDA issued a study that reviewed ethanol production over the past decade and found lifecycle greenhouse gas-reduction benefits from corn ethanol are far greater than those found in earlier studies. The report concludes that the biofuel produces at least 43 percent fewer emissions than conventional gasoline. That efficiency has been driven by a variety of improvements in ethanol production made over the years. We can now meet current ethanol production levels by growing the corn needed for the alternative fuel on 30 percent less land and using 50 percent less water than was needed in 1980.

Biofuel stakeholders have huge stakes in their environment. They understand that to burn off natural resources resulting in a net ecological deficit is a quick road to bankruptcy. But in addition to the economic incentives, there is also the commitment that all agricultural and forestry producers make to the orderly development, use and conservation of natural resources. As articulated in the 25x’25 Sustainability Principles, growers comprehend that any use of the gifts provided by nature must take a full and balanced account of the interests of society, future generations and other species.

Dayton and Minnesota are hardly the only actors in the Midwest pushing for improvements in water and soil quality. The Iowa Water Quality Initiative was established in 2013 to help implement the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which is a science and technology based approach to achieving a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus losses to our waters. As a part of that strategy, state Agriculture Commissioner Bill Northey announced last fall that 1,800 farmers committed $3.8 million in cost share funds to install nutrient reduction practices, including cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. The Soil Health Partnership, a National Corn Growers Association initiative, works with farmers across the Midwest to measure how cover crops, reduced tillage and other practices like the 4R principles of nutrient stewardship – right source, right rate, right time and right place – can improve soils and improve productivity.

On a larger scale, planning work is underway in the Midwest to make a transition to an integrated landscape management of a resilient/climate-smart and multifunctional agriculture sector that can insure that the finite land resources in the region meet the growing demand for local, affordable and nutritious food, feed, fiber and energy, as well as maintain watershed and wildlife habitats and provide other ecosystem services.

The governor’s initiative in Minnesota serves to highlight the broad array of efforts – local, regional and national – that will enable our lands to meet our production needs while sustaining the good health of the water and soil we depend on. And it’s important to remember that while the 25x’25 Vision has been about food, feed, fiber and energy, it has also promoted clean water and stable soils, among other environmental goals. 25x’25 is not an “either/or” choice. Thanks to technology, innovation and stewardship, multiple solutions can be reached from the land. Finding those solutions can serve as an aspirational goal that policy makers, regulators and stakeholders at all levels would do well to pursue in the service of communities all across the country.

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