Ag Day Recognizes Sustainable Production of Food, Feed, Fiber, Energy, Ecosystem Services

Today marks the 45th annual celebration of National Agriculture Day, which, as a White House proclamation states, acknowledges “the tremendous work ethic, ingenuity, determination and perseverance that define generations of American farmers. Because of their efforts, the United States produces an abundant supply of food, feed and fuel for a growing global population.”

It is a day during which producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others from across the United States gather to celebrate the benefits provided by American agriculture. It will feature policy discussions, speeches and salutations at events in Washington, D.C., and in states across the country to recognize the role America’s farmers and ranchers continue to play in meeting the world’s growing demand for food, feed, fiber – and as the White House proclamation points out – fuel.

Today’s observations and events are part of the growing recognition of agriculture’s transition into a much broader role, beyond providing the food, feed and fiber that the nation has enjoyed and the world has needed over the past 100 years. Our nation’s crop, livestock and forestry producers also give us 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 scientists say contribute to a changing climate.

Sponsors of National Ag Day events around the country are making it their mission to make their neighbors aware of how food, fiber and renewable resource products are produced. And they are highlighting the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy. For every $1 of United States agricultural and food exports generated by a mere fraction of the nation’s population, another $1.27 in business activity is created. U.S. agriculture exports are valued at more than $100 billion, and every $1 billion in exports supports approximately 8,000 American jobs. Also, agriculture contributes to at least 8.6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

National Ag Day also aims to generate among all Americans a sense of appreciation for the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products. And while agriculture in this country has typically been thought of more in the traditional sense of families putting in long hours to produce rows and rows of commodities that find their way to dinner tables around the country, what doesn’t often come to mind are the multiple roles that the men and women who farm our productive lands must take on every day – conservationist, agronomist, environmental engineer, logistician, transportation manager, manpower specialist, communicator, marketer and financial planner, among many others.

The evolution in skills required has brought with it a relatively new set of responsibilities that include not only maintaining the productive capacity of their lands, but also the implementation of land management practices that serve the wider good and contribute to a more sustainable planet.

U.S. producers understand that good conservation practices not only enhance soil, air and water quality, but also offer strong economic benefits – a finding particularly true in the production of biofuel feedstocks, an area where growers are using less land and less water to produce even greater quantities of biofuels.

Other examples of U.S. farm and forest lands meeting much of the nation’s renewable energy needs in a way that is economically and environmentally sustainable is the siting of virtually all of America’s no-carbon wind power facilities on rural land; the generation from U.S. forests of the biomass that offer low-emission alternatives to fossil-based power sources like coal or petroleum-based natural gas; and the capture and production of biogas resources from livestock operations that are used to displace fossil-based transportation and heating fuels.

As it does every year, National Ag Day underscores the part farmers and ranchers play not only in putting food and fiber on our store shelves, but also in developing and building the practices and management tools needed to sustainably meet society’s increasing demand for food, fiber, energy and a healthy environment. We commend these stewards of the land in their efforts.


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Nebraska Event Shows Where Agriculture is Heading in 21st Century

Earlier this month, Jerry Vap, a member of the board of directors of Solutions from the Land, the 25x’25 Alliance’s parent organization, addressed a “Bird & Pollinator Friendly Solar Day” program in Kearney, NE. Vap was part of a workshop panel held during the event, sharing his insights into rural electric cooperative and public power district solar development and its benefits to agriculture and the environment.

The day showed where agriculture is heading into the 21st century, offering a model of energy development, wildlife habitat conservation and water quality protection.

Being celebrated was the largest solar array in Nebraska, which also features landscaping across its 53-acre site that includes hundreds of thousands of pollinator and bird-friendly native flowers and grasses – more than that produced by the native flower gardens of 32,000 homes.

The facility represents a collaboration of Kearney city officials; the Rowe Audubon Center; Fresh Energy, an environmental and renewable energy consulting firm; and SoCore Energy, a developer, owner and operator of home, commercial and industrial solar projects across the country.

Local and regional leaders gathered this month – at a time when Kearney is a national destination for millions of Sandhill cranes – to formerly commemorate and highlight how the solar array is good for birds and wildlife, including pollinators, as well as good for economic development.

Vap, a lifelong conservationist and a past president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, was part of an event that shined a light on design and development approaches – for the land under and around ground-mounted solar arrays – that improve the quality of soil, provide superior stormwater management, offer greater resilience to droughts and downpours, and significantly benefit wildlife.

Vap’s input at the workshop was especially pertinent, given his previous, 15-year tenure on the Nebraska Public Service Commission (he served as chairman on four different occasions during his time on the commission). He has led the 25x’25 Alliance’s Energy for Economic Growth program, working with rural electric cooperatives across the country to help them integrate renewable energy generation into their portfolios.

Given that pollinator populations are declining across the country, the native plantings like those at the Kearney site, are important to maintaining those populations, which ultimately help create the food people eat. And the site is conveniently located next to power lines, eliminating the need to create additional transmission facilities.

For too long, our nation’s working lands and the services they provide have been managed in “silos,” narrowly focusing on either food, habitat, water quality or endangered species objectives and outcomes. Efforts through Solutions from the Land and other forward-thinking advocacy and collaborative interests cite the facility in Kearney as evidence of the new way forward – one by which land is managed in a more integrated way.

A principle that drives Solutions from the Land is that 21st century problems require 21st century solutions. Many of the policies and programs of the past cannot meet the needs of tomorrow. Of course, the new way forward begins with recognizing that to achieve the outcomes wanted and needed, there must be an economic return for those who invest in that path forward.

The event in Kearney offers policy makers a fresh look at ways rural landscapes – including farms, forests, grasslands and others – can be managed and repurposed to deliver production, environmental and economic returns to the country and to the people who work them, the guardians and stewards of America’s working lands. We urge officials at all levels to take note of these growing trends in land management and adopt the policies, programs and funding mechanisms that can bring about the changes needed.


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Indiana-Based Co-Op Demonstrates Clean Energy Leadership, Foresight

Wabash Valley Power, an electric generation and transmission (G&T) cooperative based in Indianapolis, this week demonstrated clean energy leadership and foresight, signing off on a 30-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to be the sole buyer of electricity from a 99-megawatt (MW) solar array planned for construction in Illinois’ Perry County.

The co-op’s pursuit of clean energy is providing the impetus to build the Prairie State Solar Project, which is expected to be the largest in Illinois and will more than double that state’s current solar capacity of 81.5 MW, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The significance of the move by Wabash Valley Power into the PPA is generated in part by the size of the G&T enterprise. It supplies electricity to 23 not-for-profit electric distribution cooperatives located throughout Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. Collectively, the cooperatives serve more than 311,000 homes, farms, schools and businesses.

Construction on the utility-scale solar development being built by New York-based Ranger Power is expected to begin next year. The project is scheduled to come online in 2021, when it will provide enough electricity to power nearly 15,000 homes.

The PPA and its attending project underscore a strong development environment sparked by declining prices of utility-scale solar, a factor coupled with a growing commitment from state governments to create revenue and in-state energy jobs.

Specifically, the new array will represent a nearly $100-million investment in southwestern Illinois that also will contribute millions of dollars in tax revenue without requiring additional public infrastructure or services.

And the Prairie State Solar Project supports the objectives of the Future Energy Jobs Act, an Illinois law that went into effect last year requiring at least 4,300 MW of new solar and wind energy to be built in the state by 2030. The new solar project also supports the law’s job creation initiative by creating an estimated 200 jobs during the construction phase, and 3 to 5 full-time positions once the site is operational.

While the Wabash Valley Power PPA with the Illinois facility is significant, it is not without precedent. The co-op has 16 waste-to-energy, landfill-based methane gas capture plants providing 53 MW in power; five small solar facilities spread across three states producing 1.7 MW; a PPA with four anaerobic digestion facilities generating 6 MW; and PPAs for some 64 MW in wind power.

The co-op’s leadership has long demonstrated a desire to explore the renewable option. Greg Wagoner, WVP’s executive vice president for stakeholder and government relations, joined other utility executives and rural energy leaders on a weeklong, 25x’25-sponsored renewable energy tour of Germany in late 2012.

Greg was part of the leadership of 25x’25’s Energy for Economic Growth (EEG) initiative, and in Germany, he and his colleagues saw firsthand the transformation in electricity generation underway. The renewable share of the power market in that country had already reached 25 percent that year, having grown from just 6 percent in 2000. Greg and the others returned enlightened and motivated, flush with ideas for distributed generation projects that could deliver win-win outcomes for rural electric co-ops and their members.

Almost six years later, Wabash Valley is part of a growing trend among cooperatives – and all utilities in general – turning more and more toward renewables. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which represents nearly 900 cooperatives, public power districts and public utility districts located in 47 states and provides electric service to almost three-quarters of the nation’s landmass, recently released an analysis showing power from renewable energy is increasing, while that from coal is falling rapidly.

NRECA numbers show 95 percent of its distribution members offer renewable options to 40 million Americans. Including federal hydropower, co-ops own or purchase roughly 10 percent of all U.S. renewable capacity. They own more than 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity and have long-term power purchase agreements for nearly 7.4 GW – in addition to roughly 10 GW of preference power contracts with federal hydroelectric facilities.

The 25x’25 Alliance commends Wabash Valley Power and other rural electric co-ops that are actively pursuing greater development of renewable energy in this country. Wabash joins co-ops that are currently set to add more than 1 GW of additional renewable capacity over the next few years. It’s just more evidence of the inevitable transition toward cleaner resources to meet the nation’s future energy needs.


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Even Amidst Drama, RFS, Utility Survey Shows Strength of Renewables

The continuing drama taking place in Washington this week over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) underscores a basic truth in the energy world: Certainty of policy generates growth and benefits consumers.

After more than four months, the nomination of former Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey to a key USDA undersecretary position was finally released Tuesday and then was immediately sent to the Senate floor where it was rapidly approved by a voice vote.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was using the procedural hold on Northey’s nomination in an effort to force revisions that would weaken the RFS, a policy program adopted by a widely bipartisan vote of Congress in 2007.

Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, along with lawmakers from other ethanol states, have been successful in fending off the assaults on the RFS from Cruz and other senators with strong oil refinery interests. Cruz released Northey’s nomination just as he, Grassley, Ernst and other parties in the dispute met with President Trump, a strong ethanol supporter, and key cabinet members at the White House to discuss the conflict. Nothing definitive came out of the meeting, though ethanol and oil industry representatives are reportedly being called to the White House today to form a task forces in an effort to find some resolution.

But paramount among the sentiments that are emerging after months of debate is the certainty of a biofuel policy that has served as a strong driver for the rural economy, created new markets for farmers, generated new jobs in rural America, given consumers more fuel choices, and improved national security and our nation’s air quality.

Of course, not all policies that have pushed this country towards a clean energy future are free from potential disruption. Still, a wide range of renewable energy resources continue to be put in play by interests that recognize the long-term, economic advantages they hold over their fossil-fuel counterparts.

A good example of that growing faith in clean energy is a new survey of North American utility executives undertaken by the trade publication, Utility Drive. It shows that while utilities are wary of the administration’s energy policy reform agendas, they remain unmoved in their commitment to a cleaner energy future and overwhelmingly dedicated to moving to a lower-carbon, more distributed electricity system.

The survey was conducted in December of more than 600 U.S. and Canadian electric utility professionals. It showed utilities across the continent expect to install more solar, wind and distributed energy resources over the next decade, and modernize their grids to accommodate them.

The survey also shows that electric utilities are largely opposed to key administration energy priorities, including rolling back carbon regulations and altering wholesale power markets to benefit coal and nuclear plants.

This year is the fifth in which Utility Dive has canvassed the sector, and while in each of the previous four surveys executives said they expected to add more solar, wind and other clean energy sources, utilities appear more bullish than ever this year about that growth.

The survey shows more than 90 percent or more of executives across the country expressed a high level of confidence in the growth of utility scale solar and distributed generation combined with storage. Some 85 percent of those responding were firm in their expectations of grid-scale energy storage, which can optimize the use of renewables. More than three out of four said they expected more utility-scale wind generation.

Meanwhile, the optimistic outlook for renewables and distributed energy resources contrasts with what Utility Drive calls “an increasingly tepid view of natural gas generation,” noting that just two years ago, nearly three out of four said they expected “moderate or significant growth in gas” – a share that dropped to a little more than one out of two this year. The survey also shows utilities all across the nation expect to continue retiring coal-fired generation, and virtually no one expects to add more coal capacity to their systems in the next decade.

While utility executives may be uncomfortable with the federal policy turmoil evolving alongside renewable energy development, they join states, cities and corporations in pursuing energy solutions that not only save them money, but create jobs for their communities, boost the economy and make our world a better place to live. This is an important point that policy makers at all levels of government should take notice of and respect.


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Reports Underscore Role of Biofuels in Future High-Performance, Low-Carbon Engines

Ethanol advocates and industry leaders received good news last week when DOE officials unveiled two studies, one identifying high-octane blendstocks that could be blended into gasoline for better performance, and the other outlining a new mathematical equation that quantifies the fuel efficiency potential associated with different fuel properties.

Released by the department’s Co-Optimization of Engines and Fuels initiative (Co-Optima), the reports represent a major milestone in the first-of-its-kind research that aims to simultaneously transform both transportation fuels and vehicles to maximize performance and efficiency. The department and its scientists are also looking to minimize the environmental impact and accelerate the widespread adoption of innovative combustion strategies.

In addition to identifying blendstocks across five chemical groups, the study, Fuel Blendstocks with the Potential to Optimize Future Gasoline Engine Performance, determines that once co-optimized with advanced gasoline engines, the blendstocks have the potential to improve passenger vehicle fuel economy by 10 percent.

The companion study, Efficiency Merit Function for Spark Ignition Engines, aims to provide American industry with the scientific foundation needed to maximize vehicle and fuel performance and efficiency, thereby enabling increased fuel economy and more affordable transportation.

The reports build on Co-Optima’s research data first released last June that showed ethanol is the leading candidate fuel additive to achieve 2025 efficiency and clean air goals for the American transportation system.

The Co-Optima initiative aims to simultaneously develop advanced, more efficient engine technologies and enhanced transportation fuels that together can significantly increase fuel economy over today’s vehicles and reduce emissions. While advanced engine designs are being introduced commercially, they are limited by current fuels. However, the reports make clear that the advanced fuel components that can be derived from domestic biomass resources – that means ethanol – can increase U.S. energy security and create jobs in rural America.

The research builds on a large body of work that has already been done on various fuel additives, including ethanol, which is an inherently high-octane fuel additive that contains many of the benefits researchers are looking for, including commercial and economic viability.

The magnitude of the latest reports’ findings can be evidenced by the fact they are the products of a department- and sector-wide, research and development (R&D) collaboration between DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) – the department’s nine national laboratories, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

It’s also important to note that the Co-Optima initiative involves and is supported by a variety of industry stakeholders, including automakers, biofuel feedstock and producer groups, agribusiness partners, infrastructure providers and technical experts.

The 25x’25 Alliance has been working with many of these stakeholders to develop strategies to accelerate the transition of transportation fuels to higher octane/lower carbon blends for use in the U.S. light duty vehicle fleet. Increasing the development and use of biofuels, including conventional feedstocks like corn and second-generation feedstocks such as corn stover, will encourage additional growth in the production of cleaner-burning cars and light trucks on U.S. roads and highways.

Advancements in biofuel production have helped to establish ethanol, both conventional and advanced forms, as an increasingly cost-effective, commercially viable pathway for increasing the octane of liquid transportation fuels in the near future and by the year 2025.

Given that the internal combustion engine will play a key role in our transportation mix for decades to come, the need to improve vehicle efficiency and reduce the greenhouse gases they emit is an ongoing objective. DOE says the next phases of Co-Optima will validate the potential fuel efficiency improvements developed so far through engine testing. 25x’25 calls on policy makers and industry partners to sustain work like the Co-Optima research initiative. Also, regulators should take a closer look at the rapidly growing scientific evidence around the GHG emission-reduction benefits of biofuels, and acknowledge that they are a smart choice for meeting clean energy targets, while also supporting the U.S. economy.


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Clean Energy Stakeholders Need to Keep Lawmakers Honest on Budget

There’s something unfortunately familiar about the fiscal 2019 budget proposal released by the White House this week: It bears the same draconian cuts to clean energy programs the Trump administration sought last year.

The proposal makes even clearer the Trump administration’s growing focus on fossil energy, like coal, gas and oil, and ever diminishing support for clean energy technologies. His proposal would slash or eliminate programs and services that benefit rural America, including those that promote the production of clean energy from our farms, ranches and forestlands.

Last year, Congress rejected nearly all of the reductions the White House sought in spending on renewable energy like wind, solar, bioenergy and hydropower. But that small victory came only after the Senate had to turn back House budget proposals nearly as harsh as those that came from the White House.

Congressional leaders offered either faint praise or outright condemnation of this week’s White House budget proposal. They remind any who ask that, ultimately, it is lawmakers who craft and adopt the annual spending plan, asserting that the suggested cuts will not survive.

But given the chaotic ebbs and flows that have dominated much of the legislative process in Washington over the last several years, stakeholders would do well to continually remind lawmakers that the short-sighted spending cuts sought by the Trump administration would close down critical research and development efforts, and would delay the nation’s inevitable transition to a clean energy future.

Under the White House proposal, overall DOE spending would get a slight bump up over the next fiscal year starting Oct 1, climbing to $30.6 billion from this year’s $30.1 billion. But the new money would go to spending on the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which makes up about half of the DOE budget, and to fossil energy research and development.

As the White House proposal did last year, the 2018 budget blueprint is targeting DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), calling for a cut of some two-thirds of the EERE’s current budget, from nearly $2 billion down to just under $700 million. Such a cut would debilitate the agency’s mission to help support the development of clean, renewable and efficient energy technologies for America, and supporting a global clean energy economy.

The White House wants to kill the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program because of what it says is an overlap of the agency’s ongoing research and development with that being undertaken in the private sector. The administration’s justification runs contrary to ARPA-E’s statutory obligation to focus on high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early and too risky for private-sector investment. Last year, Congress not only rejected the administration’s call to kill ARPA-E, it added $15 million to its budget.

The White House would also eliminate DOE’s Loan Program Office (LPO), which was created by Congress in 2005 to help American innovative energy and advanced auto manufacturing projects gain access to financing to help bring new technologies to commercial deployment. The LPO manages a portfolio comprising more than $30 billion in loans, loan guarantees and conditional commitments covering more than 30 projects, and securing more than $50 billion in total project investment.

Under the heading of “Duplicative, Ineffective or Lower Priority Programs,” the 2018 White House budget for USDA would eliminate all funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which has supported more than 15,000 energy-saving and clean energy-producing projects in rural areas across the country since 2012, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which supports U.S. cellulosic biofuel production.

The severity of these kinds of cuts makes it critical to repeat: Even though members of Congress have said the president’s proposal is just that – a suggested line of spending – 25x’25 calls on partners and renewable energy stakeholders to keep congressional budget writers honest and reject the Trump energy funding plan and any semblance of it. Instead, call on them to develop a fiscal 2018 budget that supports clean energy efforts that help shore up our small towns and farming communities. As always, we stand ready to work with lawmakers to develop a spending plan for the next fiscal year that enables the full potential of clean energy solutions from rural America to be realized.


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Rural Electric Co-ops Finding that Renewables Make Good Business Sense

A few short months ago, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projected the share of the world power market held by renewables will grow from 24 percent in 2016 to 30 percent by 2022. IRENA says that the three nations accounting for two-thirds of the expansion leading that shift will be India, China and the United States.

That the United States is among those countries ultimately moving the world towards the inevitable transition to a future of low- and no-carbon energy sources – despite current policy uncertainty at the federal level – is not surprising given the uplift to clean power sources by states and businesses.

From Massachusetts to California, states are directing utilities to raise the amount of renewable energy they provide, in large part to reduce emissions that pose health risks and the high costs that come with them. Corporations of all sizes are expanding their carbon-free footprint, recognizing the cost savings that continue to grow with renewable sources of electricity and improve their bottom line.

In those contexts, it is not surprising that our nation’s electrical cooperatives – the principle source of power for most of rural America – are among those in the sector leading a trend away from coal as their major power source and boosting their use of renewable resources like wind, solar and biomass in the process.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) represents nearly 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, public power districts and public utility districts in the United States. These co-ops are unique within the $391 billion U.S. electric utility industry. More than 900 cooperatives in 47 states provide electric service to almost three-quarters of the nation’s landmass.

NRECA’s co-op members serve an estimated 42 million people in 47 states. They provide the power for more than 19 million businesses, homes, schools, churches, farms, irrigation systems and other establishments in 2,500 of 3,141 counties in the United States.

So, when the NRECA says its members are making massive strides away from coal and toward more renewables and natural gas, it’s a move that reaffirms the transformation underway in this country towards a clean energy future.

Like other businesses across the nation, the association cites lower costs and a need to reduce emissions as driving the boost in lower-emission energy sources.

The share of co-op electricity coming from coal was at 41 percent in 2016, the latest year pertinent data was available, compared with 54 percent just two years earlier. Association analysts attribute the reduction in coal as a fuel to the changes in the electric industry, specifically changes in market fundamentals, including lower renewable energy technology costs along with low natural gas prices and increased coal power plant retirements.

As coal use decreased, the share of non-hydropower renewable energy resources doubled from 4 percent to 8 percent over the same period. Hydropower resources remained constant at 9 percent. Natural gas grew from 18 percent in 2014 to 26 percent in 2016. Nuclear power remained about the same at 15 percent.

The transition is even more significant when looked at in a historical perspective. In 2009, coal accounted for 58 percent of the national retail electric fuel mix for co-ops, while renewables had only a 3-percent slice. Natural gas accounted for 12 percent nine years ago.

Another perspective on NRECA’s role in promoting clean energy development is offered by a look at the association’s overall renewable energy capabilities. Currently, 95 percent of NRECA’s distribution members offer renewable options to 40 million Americans. Including federal hydropower, co-ops own or purchase roughly 10 percent of all U.S. renewable capacity. Co-ops own more than 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity and have long-term power purchase agreements for nearly 7.4 GW – in addition to roughly 10 GW of preference power contracts with federal hydroelectric facilities.

The 25x’25 Alliance commends our rural electric co-ops who are taking a lead role in the development of renewable energy in this country. Co-ops are currently set to add more than 1 GW of additional renewable capacity over the next few years, with more announced every day. It’s strong evidence of the role rural America is playing in meeting our changing energy needs.


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USDA Farm Bill 'Principles' Fall Short by Omitting Energy Programs

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue laid out USDA’s Farm Bill and Legislative Principles for 2018. USDA would like to see Congress address and adopt their list of priorities in 2018 as lawmakers deliberate over the five-year measure to guide farm policy through 2022.

The legislative objectives are broken down under nine categories, each covering USDA’s major program functions – from farm production and conservation, to trade and foreign agricultural affairs, to rural development, for example.

The principles have drawn little reaction from USDA’s wide range of constituency groups, mainly because they call for the same legislative goals as those long sought by everybody from general farm organizations to a wide variety of commodity trade organizations to crop insurers to food safety interests.

Indicative of the universality of the legislative goals is the very first offering: “Provide a farm safety net that helps American farmers weather times of economic stress without distorting markets.”

It’s important to stress – as Perdue did when he announced the list last week – that ultimately Congress will write the 2018 Farm Bill. So, the principles, though widely accepted and supported by most agricultural, forestry and rural constituencies, will likely undergo some changes before the farm legislation is adopted.

That’s an important point, given the omission of any reference in the principles to renewable energy and the farm energy programs that have contributed so much to rural America.

Over the past 20 years, the farm bill has encouraged and supported initiatives that have enabled our farms, ranches and forestlands to make a significant contribution to the nation’s energy strategy. For example, from 2009 through 2016, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provided more than 11,100 grants totaling more than $357 million, and offered nearly 1,000 loan guarantees covering more than $625 million to farmers and small business owners for renewable energy projects and energy efficiency upgrades. USDA says that money has, in turn, leveraged some $2 billion in private investment. Considering REAP was originally created in the 2002 Farm Bill, total investment dollars leveraged over the life of the program are much higher.

Yet REAP and other farm bill programs only last year faced budgetary uncertainty, particularly in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers attempted to eviscerate virtually all clean energy programs.

A strong lobbying effort from stakeholders and clean energy allies in the Senate held off the assaults, reminding policy makers in Washington of something they always seem to forget – these programs generate revenues and jobs in parts of rural America that have been in a steady economic decline for at least four years.

The omission of any reference to farm energy programs in Perdue’s legislative principles is not the only indicator that stakeholders and clean energy advocates will have to double their efforts to see that the initiatives are maintained. In a separate development that reflects the harsh political environment in Washington, news outlets there are reporting this week that a draft, 2018-19 budget proposal from the White House calls for cutting DOE renewable energy and energy efficiency spending by staggering 73 percent.

The 25x’25 Alliance recognizes that Congress has the budgetary challenge of trying to do more with less. But the Alliance also recognizes the need to maintain a strong rural economy that supports a diverse energy portfolio. And stakeholders should caution lawmakers that any effort to boost fossil fuels in some short-sighted attempt to delay this nation’s inevitable transition to a clean energy future would sacrifice critical national priorities that would ultimately leave the nation on a sounder economic footing in the future. Farm bill energy programs are among those critical priorities because they strengthen our national security, create jobs, and produce new economic opportunities and investments in rural America.


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Solar Tariff Decision Undermines Growth of a U.S. 'Economic Engine'

Monday’s decision by the Trump administration to impose tariffs on imported solar cells and modules was anticipated by the industry, given the president’s “America First” agenda on behalf of U.S. manufacturing, energy and other sectors.

Tariffs were also an outcome that most of the solar industry in this country feared. While claims were made that the punitive duties would generate U.S. jobs, the consensus – even from impartial analysts – suggests any increase in manufacturing jobs would be minimal.

In fact, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the key U.S. trade group in the sector, estimates the tariffs will drive up the costs of solar components, drive down demand for new utility-scale solar plants and rooftop systems, and cost the industry upwards of 23,000 jobs.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office announced that it would impose 30-percent tariffs on imported crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules, though it excludes the first 2.5 gigawatts (GW) of imports.

The tariffs will decline by five percent over each of the next three years, coming to an end at 15 percent in 2022.

Analysts say the 30-percent levy will add another 10-15 cents per watt to the cost of imported cells and panels, which are now forecast to drop anticipated solar installations by 11 percent, or 7.6 GW – down to 61.3 GW – from now until 2022.

Despite those numbers, those supporting the manufacturers’ petition argue the levies will not significantly harm the U.S. solar industry.

But this is a burgeoning industry – an economic engine that is growing 17 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy and employing more than 280,000 American workers. Over the last five years, the sector has added more than 100,000 blue-collar jobs to the economy, including those in installation and those in the manufacturing of other solar components such as sun trackers, inverters, and framing and racking systems. In 2016, the solar industry created one out of every 50 new U.S. jobs.

Despite administration claims the tariffs would launch a new wave of solar manufacturing, they are unlikely to be enough to even save the two financially distressed solar cell and panel manufacturers that went to the U.S. International Trade Commission last April seeking the relief.

Suniva, a bankrupt, Georgia-based firm principally owned by a Chinese company, and SolarWorld, owned by an “insolvent” German company, joined in a petition to the ITC in April, asking that penalty tariffs be levied on imported solar cells and panels. The commission determined in September that the imports were causing “serious injury” to the manufacturers. Following a hearing in October, the commission formally sent its recommendations to the White House in November.

The four ITC members each offered their own recommendations, most of which were generally more severe than what the USTR announced Monday. And the first-year, 30-percent tariff is well below the approximately 50-percent remedy sought by the two petitioners (Suniva also sought a 74-cents-per-watt floor price on solar modules). The 2.5 GW duty-free quota set Monday falls in between what SolarWorld sought for solar cells (0.22 GW) and panels (5.7 GW).

Even if the USTR set the tariffs at the level sought by Suniva and SolarWorld, the solar manufacturing sector would only be expected to gain about 6,400 jobs, a number that could now be significantly lower.

The tariff decision is an unfortunate market disruptor that fails to consider the consequences for other domestic industries. It is dismissive of this nation’s inevitable move to a clean energy future. It will also drive up consumer costs. And with the anticipated drop in installations, particularly in utility-scale solar, there will be a decrease in leases for solar facility location sites, which are mostly found in – and offer financial benefits to – rural America.

The tariffs will slow the solar industry, but not stop it. Stakeholders are urged to engage federal, state and local policy makers and urge them to adopt the programs and financing tools that will accelerate the development of solar and other low- and no-carbon power sources so critical to this nation’s energy security.


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NACSAA Reaffirms Commitment to Enhance Adaptive Capacity of North American Agriculture

A gathering this week in Washington, DC, of leaders from more than 30 leading farm and sustainability organizations from across the continent has reaffirmed their commitment to enhance the adaptive capacity of North American agriculture. The meeting, held at the American Farm Bureau Federation headquarters, marked a revitalization of the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), which provides a platform for engagement, dialogue, knowledge sharing and application of climate science to the agriculture and forestry sectors.

NACSAA, an initiative of Solutions from the Land (the parent organization of 25x’25), has three complementing strategies: 1) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods; 2) enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience; and 3) delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.

Sponsored by the advocacy group Business for Social Responsibility, Tuesday’s session drew together agriculture and forestry leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico who share the mission of making our food, feed and fiber production systems resilient to changes in our climate while intensifying production levels in the face of a growing global population.

Equally important, these farm and forestry leaders also renewed their commitment to the role of agriculture and forestry in significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – which most scientists say is a major contributor to climate change – through methane capture, soil carbon sequestration and biofuels (including biofuels for transportation and woody biomass for power) that burn more cleanly than fossil fuels.

The people in Tuesday’s meeting have the first-hand knowledge and experience to address the challenges that science is telling us to expect.

As documented in the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report (Vol I), record-setting hot years are projected to become common in the near future; the incidence of large wildfires like those that gripped California in recent months has grown since the early 1980s and is projected to further increase; annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack that are already affecting water resources in the western United States are expected to continue; and extensive drought is likely to become a persistently recurring threat in the years ahead.

This week’s meeting was held in large part to reinforce the role of climate-smart agriculture and help ensure U.S. farm and forestry interests remain a strong player in shaping global plans to address climate-related challenges and deliver solutions to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In November, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change announced the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, a two-year initiative charged with exploring and recommending “bold actions” agriculture and forestry can undertake to meet climate, adaptation and food security challenges, and presenting those strategies at the next UN climate meeting in 2020.

In their efforts to secure a place at the negotiating table now and in 2020, NACSAA members can cite federal government data showing that U.S. working lands have been sequestering much more carbon than they emit (a net “carbon sink”) for the last three decades. There are numerous projects at work reinforcing how biofuels can reduce emissions, including a University of Florida initiative to identify and deploy regionally adapted carinata (an oilseed member of the mustard family) as the basis of a biobased jet fuel; and a Washington State University project that takes a holistic approach to building a supply chain within the Northwest U.S. based on using forest harvest residuals to make aviation biofuel.

NACSAA members will urge policy makers at all levels to support programs that not only prepare agriculture and forestry for climate change, but enhance the sector’s role in mitigating it. As other nation’s make dealing with climate change a priority, U.S. interests must overcome the policy constraints at the federal level, knowing full well that failing to do so endangers the U.S. position in foreign agriculture and forestry trade and commodity markets.

The impacts wrought by climate change that scientists predict will happen are already underway.  In 2017, natural disasters caused $306 billion in damage across the nation. The United States is the world’s biggest breadbasket, but it is not immune to the impacts of a changing climate. We urge all stakeholders – be they farmers, foresters or renewable energy developers – to follow NACSAA’s lead and help develop the enabling policies and initiatives that will ensure the resilience of our food, feed and fiber production, and innovate the land-based strategies that will nullify the effects of changing climatic conditions and extreme weather events.


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