Ethanol’s Lessons for New Mexico by Peter Burrows 5/10/18 email@example.com – silvercityburro.com
Last March, New Mexico’s Senator Tom Udall introduced a bill that would revise the Renewable Fuel Standards to virtually eliminate blending corn ethanol into gasoline. It would drop the current 10 percent standard to 9.7 percent and begin a ten-year reduction of the required use of corn ethanol from 15 billion gallons in 2018 to 1 billion by 2029. The Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation strongly support the bill.
This is very good news. The evidence has been piling up for over 20 years that using corn as a biofuel source has been wasteful, unnecessary and counter-productive. Here’s what Michael Bruce, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said about the proposed bill and its supporters:
“The Sierra Club applauds Senator Udall, Congressman Welch, and all the members of Congress who are putting common sense first rather than continuing to permit a dirty and destructive policy to remain intact. Instead of continuing to play political games with our environment and public health, these legislators are moving policies that will help undo the damage caused by the ethanol mandate. We urge Congress to pass this legislation immediately rather than continuing to push false theories about ethanol.”
As the saying goes, “Strong letter to follow.” The above statement could have been made 10 years ago, but hey! Better late than never.
One of the “false theories about ethanol” was that its use would reduce CO2 emissions. Study after study has shown just the opposite: producing and using corn ethanol actually increases CO2 emissions. Furthermore, using corn has increased the world-wide cost of food by billions of dollars while increasing, not decreasing, the cost per gallon of gasoline.
The conclusion that ethanol increases CO2 emissions is what has earned the environmentalists’ wrath. In the Church of Global Warming, to increase CO2 emissions is to sin. The fact that it is also very costly is of no concern. After all, they have a world to save.
To that point, Udall’s bill maintains a cellulosic biofuel mandate. Cellulosic biofuel uses waste organic plant material, from corn stalks to grass clippings. In theory, it’s a good idea, but the reality is that It is ridiculously expensive. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 mandated a goal of 9 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2017. The actual production: 540,000 gallons.
This lack of cellulosic ethanol didn’t deter the EPA from attempting to punish refiners of gasoline for not using the mandated cellulosic feed stocks that did not exist!! Fortunately, that EPA effort was struck down by a federal court.
To Udall’s credit, his bill eliminates the ridiculous cellulosic ethanol mandated by EISA, which rises to 21 billion gallons in 2022, and replaces that with a cap of “only” two billion gallons, which doesn’t have to be reached until 2037, at which time the mandate ceases to exist. I think this is essentially a small concession to the ethanol “true believers” to get their support for the overall bill.
Regardless, Udall’s bill is a big first step toward curbing an industry, ethanol, that would not exist in anything near its present size without government mandates and subsidies. Will Udall’s bill get through Congress? It will face opposition from the owners of the over 200 distilleries that have been built to produce ethanol, and opposition from thousands of corn farmers.
Even if Congress can overcome the millions that will be spent to stop Udall’s bill, President Trump, wearing his RINO hat, has said he will “protect” the corn farmers. “Corn farmers” of course means Iowa, and Iowa means “first primaries,” which in turn means, “Kiss those corn farmers’ tractors, cows and asses.” A wag once noted that if Florida had the first primaries, we’d be making ethanol out of orange juice.
You’re probably thinking, “OK, Burro, what’s all this got to do with New Mexico.” Here’s the answer: Every politician in New Mexico, regardless of party, top-to-bottom, thinks that New Mexico has a great future with renewable energy. All the winners and losers in the upcoming primaries, all the winners and losers next November, all of them, will tout solar panels and windmills as great businesses for New Mexico’s future. If you know of one who doesn’t think that, please tell me who. Please.
You’re thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with that?” What’s wrong is that, like the ethanol industry, windmills and solar panels are almost wholly dependent on government mandates and subsidies. I would guess that solar is about 90% dependent on government, and wind 100%.
The second or third largest owner of windmill farms in America is Berkshire Hathaway. The chairman of Berkshire Hathaway is life-long liberal and mega-billionaire Warren Buffett, who is famous for his blunt-spoken opinions. Without tax credits, he said, wind-generated electricity “doesn’t make sense.”
Without those tax credits, New Mexico has no wind farms and no future as a big producer/exporter of windmill electricity.
At this point, some of you are saying, “But Burro, New Mexico is so sunny! We should encourage people to put solar panels on their roofs, in fields, on buildings, along the road sides, everywhere! And then we could export all that solar electricity which would save the world from global warming and we’d get rich in the process!”
The problem with that fantasy is the hard reality of costs. Even if solar electricity was free, which it isn’t, the cost of storing solar electricity so it can light your house at night is very expensive. Tesla, the electric car company, is a leader in battery technology and recently completed a project Tesla’s owner, Elon Musk, called the “world’s largest battery.”
It is a $50 million electric storage facility in Australia that will power 30,000 homes for —-Drum roll please ––one hour. There are about 7,500 homes in Grant County, so Musk’s “battery” would provide us four hours of electricity. If we only occasionally had a cloudy day and never had two cloudy days in a row, we would need 36 hours of storage. (No sun from 6 PM through 6 PM the next day is 24 hours, and until 6 AM the next morning is an additional 12 hours.)
That means we would need nine of Tesla’s batteries at a cost of $450 million. Financed at 5% and depreciated over 20 years, or 5% per year, means this “battery” will cost Grant County $45 million per year. The cost per 7,500 households would be $6,000 per year, or $500 per month.
How does $500 per month compare to your current electricity bill? This is with only 36 hours of storage when at least triple that would be needed. This is with zero cost electricity, i.e. free solar panels that last forever, producing electricity with no transmission costs on free land that is not taxed.
Last year, a couple of New Mexico’s legislators proposed that 80 percent of NM’s electricity be from renewables by 2040, a huge increase from the 20 percent mandated by 2020. Some environmentalists want to be 100 percent by 2035. Either option would require massive amounts of storage and a massive increase in your electricity bill.
Someday, I don’t know when, even in New Mexico it will be recognized that renewable energy is ridiculously expensive. When that day comes, and it will, wind and solar will face a “Udall bill” that will end mandates and subsidies. Does New Mexico really want to invest its future in industries that depend on subsidies and mandates that will someday end?