Ecotech Institute Holds Open House for Solar Day

It’s global renewable energy week. Today is Global Wind Day and Saturday is world SolarDay, at least for those in North America. To celebrate, the Ecotech Institute, the first and only college whose sole focus in preparing Americans to work in green jobs, is hosting an open house on June 18. Since the school installed a solar energy system in January 2011, the system has generated more than 10,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.

One field of study at the EcoTech Institute is its Solar Energy Technology Program designed to educate students about all things solar energy technology. The program has updated facilities, modern labs and small class sizes – all things the school considers ideal for learning. Since opening, more than 300 students have attended the Aurora, Colorado, based school.

The solar curriculum prepares students for various jobs after graduation including construction, installation and repair of solar energy systems as well as working with architect or engineers as they design and install solar projects. For more information about the open house or to learn more about Ecotech Institute programs, click here.

Biofuels Benchmarking Annual Report Released

Christianson & Associates, a CPA and consulting firm for the ethanol, biodiesel and renewable energy industry, today released its 2nd Annual Biofuels Benchmarking Report. The report found several key findings: profitably increased for the industry on average 8 cents; equity to asset ratio increased more than 10 percent; and working capital improvements enabled plants to decrease long-term debt by an average of 20 cents per gallon. The report also found that despite higher corn prices in 2010, margin volatility has decreased.

In an interview with John Christianson, Partner, Christianson & Associates, he said that the past two years have been recovery years for the ethanol industry and plant management has focused on strengthening their balance sheets to prepare for future volatility. Christianson also noted that despite higher commodity prices, margin volatility has improved.

“There have been a lot of unique things happening in the industry and one of them is that we’ve seen a general rise in commodity prices,” said Christianson. “But even though there has been a sharp rise in commodity prices, so has the fuels. Oil price has risen which has brought up ethanol prices as well. So even though commodity prices have risen, we’ve actually had an improved margin ratio and so the margin volatility has been less.”

Other factors that have helped to improve margins include co-products such as distillers grains, corn oil and carbon dioxide.

Listen to my full interview with John Christianson here: Biofuels Benchmarking Report Highlights

This in-depth report analyzes the operational and financial performance of more than 60 ethanol plants in five major “benchmark” areas: overall ethanol industry analysis, regional ethanol plant analysis, production capacity analysis, plant production efficiency analysis, and balance sheet analysis. This year’s financial outlook is much improved and one reason is due to plants improving their risk management while they continue to improve their production efficiencies and energy costs. These two areas will be a focus on Christianson & Associates upcoming 7th Annual Biofuels Financial Conference next week.

As a veteran of the industry I asked John considering the results of the biofuels benchmarking study, what word of advice does he have for the industry to manage risk. “Looking at the operations of an ethanol plant today, one is you have to operate your business within the parameters that you can fundamentally handle the risk, recommended Christianson.

The report is available for free to all benchmarking participants and for a nominal fee for others. You can purchase the report here.

USDA Announces Miscanthus Biomass Projects

Giant miscanthus will soon be grown for biomass energy in Missouri and three other states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) today announced the establishment of two Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas in Missouri that will produce the dedicated energy crop miscanthus to be used for heat, power, liquid biofuels, and bio-based products.

“We are hopeful that as a result of this announcement we can assist the creation of up to 8250 acres in those two project areas of land that can be used to grow miscanthus,” said Vilsack. Yields for biomass from giant miscanthus are expected to range between 10 and 12 tons of dry matter per acre and can be as high as 15 tons per acre.

biodiesel roy blunt“This energy crop is a crop that will grow on land that is not necessarily the best farmland for anything else,” added Senator Blunt.

Despite the fact that future funding for BCAP is in danger, the $20 million for these projects has already been approved by Congress, and Blunt says this kind of spending benefits the economy. “If you’ve got a program like this where you can take a relatively small amount of money and create a private sector job that helps us solve our energy problem, I’m going to continue to be supportive of those kinds of policies.”

In addition to Missouri, project areas will also be established in Ohio, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. USDA estimates that these project areas and conversion facilities would earn about $50 million per year and create nearly 4,000 jobs by 2014.

Listen to or download the Vilsack-Blunt press conference here: Miscanthus BCAP Projects

More details on the project areas can be found here.

Biodiesel Advertising Campaign Launched

An advertising campaign to spotlight biodiesel as America’s advanced biofuel has been launched by the U.S. biodiesel industry.

The multi-million dollar project will include national television advertising, coupled with regional print and radio advertising as well as an online presence. The centerpiece of the education effort is a 30-second spot that will air across the nation on Sunday-morning network talk shows, beginning this Sunday, June 19th. The ads feature the tagline, “Biodiesel. America’s Advanced Biofuel” and focus on biodiesel’s viability here and now. The television spot highlights biodiesel use in the Dallas area to demonstrate the fuel’s practical, common-sense appeal in communities across the country.

“The public generally doesn’t know that there is an advanced biofuel here now,” said Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board. “This is not some pipedream. Biodiesel today is fueling long-haul trucks from Florida to California, municipal buses in Texas, Ford pickups in Detroit, and Volkswagens in New York City.”

The campaign has a new website – AmericasAdvancedBiofuel.com – where the ads are posted. The TV ad can be viewed below.

WindMade Label Proposed on Global Wind Day

A new international label for companies and products using wind energy is being proposed by a new organization.

Wind energy industry leaders gathered in New York today on Global Wind Day to unveil the proposed WindMade™ standard for public comment and to promote it worldwide. This event was co-sponsored by the new WindMade™ organization, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, and the Wind Energy Foundation, of Washington, D.C.

“I believe that WindMade has the potential to develop into a truly global movement, with consumers around the world demanding transparency on the companies and products they choose,” said WindMade CEO Henrik Kuffner. “WindMade can make a real difference in driving consumer demand for sustainable products, and I am excited to be given the opportunity to spearhead this groundbreaking initiative.”

The proposed standard requires participating companies to source a minimum of 25 per cent of their electricity demand from wind power and it was developed by a committee made up of representatives from founding organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), LEGO, Climate Friendly, Gold Standard, and Vestas Wind Systems. “We believe that the label will build a bridge between consumers and companies committed to clean energy,” said Steve Sawyer, Chairman of the WindMade™ Board and Secretary General of GWEC.

Organizers say that WindMade™ will be “dedicated to increasing corporate investments in wind power by informing consumers about companies’ use of wind energy, and increasing demand for products that embrace this clean and renewable energy source.”

Beef Is Top Choice

We’ve got some beef eaters in this community! In answer to our question, “What’s your favorite meat?” an overwhelming majority said Beef at 39%. Here’s how the other choices fared in order. Fish, 15%; Chicken, 12%; Pork, 10%; All of the above, 10%; Lamb, 5%; Venison, 5% and Other, 4%. I’ve spoken with some AgWired community members who voted that told me they voted for beef but definitely eat other meat choices. We just thought we’d ask the question this way to see if you had a favorite and it sure looks like you do. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Our new ZimmPoll is now live. We’re asking the question, “Will ethanol be an issue in the presidential race?” Let us know what you think. And if you have any questions you want to suggest for future ZimmPolls please let us know.

ZimmPoll is sponsored by Rhea+Kaiser, a full-service advertising/public relations agency.

More Ethanol Dialogue Needed

The ethanol industry is anxious to continue talks about the future of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) and how best to balance the budget while still ensuring the ethanol industry can move forward. Yet while many believe the Senate’s defeat of Sen. Coburn’s ethanol amendment opens the door for dialogue, others believe today’s action does little to move the debate forward.

“Today’s debate did little to move the ball forward in encouraging the development of an advanced and cellulosic biofuels industry,” said Michael McAdams, president of the Advanced Biofuels Association. “Our nation needs a comprehensive approach that focuses on the future of all biofuels, including advanced drop-in, algae, and cellulosic fuels to deliver as many gallons to back out foreign oil as quickly as possible. In order to best achieve this goal, Congress must consider policies that are technology, feedstock, and product neutral, and provide long term certainty for the markets. We remain committed to working with Congressional leaders and stakeholder groups to find a common sense approach the benefits all biofuels.”

While all groups remain committed to working with federal policymakers on a compromise, Bart Schott, a grower from Kulm, North Dakota and the current president of the National Corn Growers Association noted that should Coburn’s policy have been passed, the ethanol industry could have seen production reduced by 38 percent. “This would have significantly impacted an industry that provides and supports more than 400,000 U.S. jobs, many in rural America, during a time of economic uncertainty. The loss in ethanol production could have resulted in the shedding of approximately 112,000 of these jobs, in all sectors of the economy,” said Schott.

Schott pointed out that while the ethanol industry remains open to change the oil and gas industry has refused to proactively engage in debates about subsidy reform. He continued by reiterating his organization’s support of the Ethanol Reform and Deficit Reduction Act that was introduced yesterday by Sens. John Thune and Amy Klobuchar.

Jeff Broin, chairman and CEO, of POET, the country’s largest ethanol producer added that the country must transition away for the tax credit and make a short-term investment that will reap long-term rewards. This should be done through the expansion of flex fuel pumps and flex fuel vehicles.

“Over the years as the tax credit has declined, we have been able to improve our efficiency and stay competitive with gasoline. Now it is time for the ethanol industry to take the next step in competing with oil. That can only happen if ethanol is allowed greater access to the fuel market,” concluded Broin.

Ethanol Future Could be Headed to Senate Showdown

After the defeat Tuesday in the Senate of an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to immediately eliminate the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), the ethanol industry is supporting another approach and the two concepts could be heading for a showdown in the Senate before the end of the month.

“That indeed has been teed up with a commitment by the majority leader for a vote on Coburn again in a couple of weeks and a vote on an alternative,” says Renewable Fuels Association CEO and President Bob Dinneen.

The alternative is the Ethanol Reform and Deficit Reduction Act introduced this week by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would end the tax incentive this year while still helping the industry move forward. The legislation would provide tax incentives for infrastructure such as blender pumps, and for cellulosic biofuels development, as well as a variable safety-net determined by the price of oil. “It’s very fiscally responsible and makes sense as an insurance that the investment that the taxpayer has already made in this industry will be protected,” Dinneen said.

The ethanol industry and agriculture groups are supportive of the alternate approach, which would save about $1 billion toward deficit reduction and Dinneen hopes it will go head-to-head against the Coburn amendment. “I welcome that side-by-side comparison,” he says. “I think there would be a great deal of support for our vision.”

Ethanol Report PodcastIn this edition of “The Ethanol Report,” Dinneen talks about why ending the ethanol tax credit without a plan to move forward would be disastrous and how the ethanol industry is taking the initiative to work with Congress and develop a plan that cuts spending while continuing to move the country toward energy independence.

Listen to or download the interview with Dinneen here: Ethanol Report on Senate Legislation

Coburn Amendment Quashed

In a vote of 40-59, Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) Amendment No. 436 to immediately eliminate the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) and the tariff on imported ethanol was quashed. Coburn’s proposal needed 60 votes to move forward but fell short by 20 votes. Shortly after the news hit, the ethanol industry began calling for “real reform.”

“The fight is not over until we achieve real reform for the ethanol industry, but this vote sends a signal that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “For more than a year, Growth Energy has advocated for our Fueling Freedom plan, which would phase out the VEETC in a fiscally responsible way, while redirecting the funds toward ethanol infrastructure build out. Opening the fuels market to ethanol, through Flex Fuel pumps and Flex Fuel vehicles, would give consumers a choice at the pump and allow us to ultimately eliminate all government assistance.”

The industry applauded the Senators who voted to stop the amendment from moving forward. Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen said, “This vote demonstrates the lack of appetite for this kind of destructive policy and political gamesmanship. The Senate and the country need to focus on a comprehensive energy strategy that seeks to expand America’s ability to renewably meet its fuel needs.”

Yesterday the ethanol industry joined together in support of another proposal introduced by Senators Thune and Klobuchar. This proposal also eliminates VEETC in its current form but replaces it with a variable tax incentive tied to the price of oil, which hit more than $120 a barrel today, a five week high. This proposal would also allocate funds to improve ethanol infrastructure and supports tax policies for emerging ethanol technologies.

“This vote is a major victory for the biofuels industry and American consumers and a setback for those clinging to our status-quo dependence on oil,” added Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol. “It proves political stunts aimed at ethanol won’t be tolerated in the U.S. Senate. Now we can focus on continuing our work with the White House and both chambers of Congress to support meaningful and responsible legislation to reform ethanol policy.”

NBB Study Shows Biodiesel’s Benefits

According to a new study released today by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), the U.S. biodiesel industry will grow to support more than 74,000 jobs throughout the economy by 2015. These jobs will create nearly $4 billion in household income and generate almost $1.6 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues. The study was conducted by Cardno ENTRIX and released in timing with NBB’s annual membership meeting being held in Washington, D.C.

“This shows without question that a healthy and thriving biodiesel industry is good for America,” said Joe Jobe, CEO of NBB. “Biodiesel isn’t just improving our environment and shoring up our energy security, it’s creating good-paying jobs in virtually every state in the country.”

The study also looked at how the industry responded after losing its key tax incentive in 2010, which was retroactively brought back at the end of the year. It discovered the expiration of the tax credit and the resulting 42 percent drop in production caused the loss of nearly 8,900 jobs. Household income also decreased by $485 million and a reduction in real GDP or $879 million.

Fortunately for the industry, this year marks a major turnaround as the Renewable Fuels Standard ramps up with biodiesel considered an advanced biofuel. In January alone, production jumped 69 percent and is continuing to climb.

“Since the EPA designated us as an advanced biofuel last year and Congress reinstated our tax incentive in December, the market has responded with incredible quickness, ” said Jobe. “Plants across the country are reopening and ramping up production. This means new jobs in all sorts of sectors – manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, sales. It means plants are hiring, buying supplies and machinery, and circulating money throughout the economy.”

Jobe continued, “The numbers also show what happens when those incentives weren’t there in 2010. They demonstrate what we’ve been saying, that biodiesel is still a young industry. We’re trying to gain a foothold in a business that is and always has been dominated by fossil fuels, and breaking into that business is extraordinarily difficult.”