September 21, 2005 | General



RIGHT before the Labor Day holiday, we were putting the finishing touches on this issue of BioCycle, when wham, the main server of our computer system died. In this age of electronic publishing, that situation causes paralysis, as everything we needed to close the issue was locked away in this one little machine. Eventually we were bailed out, and as the days and weeks go by, our minicrisis that had us “over a barrel” will be a distant memory.
Reflecting on this experience, Doug Pinkerton, our art director and in-house “tech guy,” saw a parallel between our situation and the skyrocketing fuel prices that seem to have our nation over a barrel. Will this be the crisis that tips the scale toward higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, reinvestment in public transportation systems, and aggressive development of renewable alternatives long advocated – and in many cases developed by – readers of BioCycle? Or will a gradual downward trend of gas prices, as expected once refineries are back on line (and overall refinery capacity issues are addressed), make this momentary focus on beneficial alternatives a distant memory?
On page 67 of this issue, there is an excellent summary of the Energy Policy Act signed last month by President Bush. Author Jennifer Weeks assesses how renewable energy and biofuels fared. The article also helps us analyze whether this new legislation will put us on track for longer-term energy independence without having to drill in the Arctic or invest gazillions of dollars in “safe” nuclear power. The Energy Policy Act definitely is a step in the right direction for renewable alternatives. However (and from an organics recycling perspective this is a huge however), the fact that it did not adopt higher fuel efficiency requirements for passenger vehicles, or a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that would have required electricity producers to generate 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020 (included in the Senate version but eventually dropped), highlights the short-sightedness of our current policy makers. One reason cited for dropping the national RPS is the view that the measure would drive up electricity prices, especially states without significant renewable energy resources, writes Weeks.
Stop right there! One very important message that the BioCycle community needs to get out there in a big way is that every state in this country does have significant renewable energy resources. Every state has millions of tons of solid waste with a high organic content that has significant energy value when biodegraded in some manner into fuels and biogas. Every state has wastewater treatment plants where anaerobic digesters can be plugged into the grid (or digesters installed and tapped into). Most states have tons of wood waste generated by land clearing, construction and demolition, forest thinnings to prevent wildfires and storm debris (the Energy Policy Act includes grants to convert wood waste to biomass fuel). And let’s not forgot the millions and millions of tons of livestock manure that have become an environmental management nightmare in many states. What about plugging into that?
On the other end of the spectrum, private companies and universities (with state and some federal support) have been aggressively developing the technologies needed to convert all these renewable energy resources into electricity and fuels. BioCycle’s Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling Conference showcases many of them. And our upcoming Southeast Conference, November 13-16, 2005 in Charlotte, North Carolina will feature more.
So here’s the bottom line. Are we going to take advantage of this current energy “crisis” that has everyone in this country “over a barrel” and move alternatives forward at a rapid pace? Or, as gas pump pains subside, are we going to let this all become a distant memory. Reality is that we are only “over a barrel” if we let the latter happen. – N.G.

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