Guest Columnist

Iowa has room for all renewables - solar, wind and ethanol

Each year, the U.S. produces 14 to 15 billion bushels of corn each year. About a third of the corn produced gets process
Each year, the U.S. produces 14 to 15 billion bushels of corn each year. About a third of the corn produced gets processed into ethanol. (Union photo by Ashley Duong)

A recent opinion piece in this paper by two University of Iowa professors (“Pull the plug on ethanol,” Jan. 10) made a curious case in favor of renewable energy but against ethanol.

First, it should be said that ethanol is renewable energy. Renewable liquid fuels and renewable electricity are highly complementary ways to reduce America’s carbon footprint. We can have clean renewable energy from solar and wind, as the authors want, and still take advantage of the greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that come from using more ethanol in our transportation fuels.

Leading federal and state government agencies like the U.S. Department of Energy, California Air Resources Board, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have all recognized the environmental benefits of ethanol in reducing both tailpipe pollution and GHG emissions.

In fact, these agencies have recognized that grain-based ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 35 to 50 percent compared to gasoline. Some ethanol being produced today in Iowa reduces GHG emissions by nearly 80 percent, according to analysis by California regulators. Why wouldn’t we want to combine ethanol’s environmental benefits with those of the renewable power sector?

It’s clear from their article that the writers would rather see renewable electricity projects simply displace ethanol production, and this is where their arguments lose credibility.

Criticizing the ethanol industry because the authors’ preferred clean energy solution hasn’t materialized as rapidly as desired is both shortsighted and naive. Should we seriously believe that with “creative taxation or tax abatements” the entire clean electricity industry would rush to bulldoze Iowa cornfields for solar and wind projects? Where are those renewable energy companies today? Is it really millions of acres of corn that are holding back progress? Absolutely not.

We’ve long heard the oil and gas lobby argue against ethanol. That’s understandable, since ethanol reduces demand for traditional fossil fuels and helps hold down the price of gasoline by 22 cents per gallon while also reducing our dependence on foreign oil. But when academics start asking what ethanol has done for rural Iowa, we’ve officially entered the Twilight Zone.

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It has been 16 years since President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and established the Renewable Fuel Standard, creating a value-added market for farmers; assuring growth for biofuels like ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable fuels; and addressing critical environmental and energy security priorities. Since then, ethanol has lowered carbon emissions from motor fuels far greater than anticipated. It has lowered consumer gasoline costs by infusing competition into an otherwise stagnant market. And it helped to dramatically reduce U.S. dependence on imported petroleum.

Maybe the air is getting a little thin in the ivory towers at the University of Iowa. But out in the country, ethanol supports tens of thousands of jobs and is already proven to significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions the authors are so concerned about.

Geoff Cooper is president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association.

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