Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
A national grassroots coalition met in Havre Wednesday after meeting a Havre celebrity, the world’s largest tractor to discuss increasing renewable energy use in the United States, including increasing energy independence in the country, maintaining the production of food and other goods and protecting the environment, and creating millions of new jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. “This is a feasible scenario, we don’t have to worry about that question any more ,” Ed DeMeo of Palo Alto, Calif. Said during his presentation on wind energy during the meeting of the 25x'25 steering committee at the Applied Technology Center at Montana State University-Northern Wednesday. “The question really has to be, How do we make it happen?’” 25x'25, formed in 2004 with a grant from the Energy Future Coalition, held a roundtable forum in Great Falls Tuesday afternoon, attended by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and then met in Havre Wednesday. The day ended with tours of the biodiesel facilities of Earl Fisher Biofuels in Chester and the Bio-Agtive System on Craig Henke’s farm south of Chester. Greg Kegel, dean of Northern’s College of Technical Sciences, said this morning the tour of the Chester facilities and the meeting over all went very well. “They were very interested,” Kegel said. “To see what rural Montana is doing, they were very impressed, and to see that we were grabbing the whole idea and running with it, they were very impressed.” Kegel added that, with Montana’s vast resources for renewable energy, members of the steering committee seemed interested in finding out if the state would help other states meet the group’s goal of having 25 percent of the nation’s energy coming from renewable energy by the year 2025. “Montana will probably have no problem in meeting that initiative,” he said. “What they were wondering was, is Montana willing to share.” Growing national support The group’s vision of having agricultural and forestry land provide 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs through renewable resources by the year 2025, has found growing support. Congress formally adopted 25 percent by 2025 as a national goal and President Bush signed that into law in December. The group has more than 725 groups and organizations supporting it as partners, including t h e Ame r i c a n Fa rm Bu r e a u Federation the National Education As sociat ion, Deere & Co. , the National Wildlife Federation and Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. The group also has the endorsement of 29 governors and 16 state legislatures, and is working on forming a partnership with the Montana state g o v e r nme n t , s a i d S h e a o f Brooklandville, Md., project coordinator for 25x'25. Shea said the steering committee has been holding field tours for a couple of years now, including stops in Texas, California, Minnesota and New York before coming to Montana. The group is now trying push into Phase IV of its work, Shea said, mobilizing a broad range of constituencies in support of the effort, pushing through policies to enable it coming to fruition and creating an institute to act as a clearinghouse of knowledge and to counteract negative comments made in opposition to the effort. “There is so much misinformation going around that the steering committee decided it needed to establish an institute,” Shea said. He said the institute would provide information to groups, policy makers and the media to attempt to counteract information such as statements that increasing renewable energy use will drive up food prices, increase energy costs and is simply unattainable. A new perspective Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone, a member of the group’s steering committee, said she thinks meeting in north-central Montana was valuable. “I think the committee has learned a real perspective issue,” she said. One item was seeing, first-hand, the problems local groups and governments face when going through processes to advance renewable energy, she said. That was an issue discussed during the roundtable Tuesday, and was again brought up by John Etchart of Helena when he discussed the Montana-Alberta electrical line intended to tie in the two region’s power grids. Etchart, of the consulting group Gallatin Public Affairs working on creating the tie-in through private investment, said even with the support of the state government and the public it is difficult to get past the hurdles. “Our processes are so full of glue and so full of uncertainty, it’s hard to get to the end point,” he said. Beltrone said the meeting also gave some new perspective on issues of public versus private, and of community, ownership of renewable enerGy production and on issues such as private investment in efforts. A view of north-central Montana Wednesday started with a tour Northern’s Bio- Energy Innovation and Testing Center, followed by panel discussions and a lunch presentation, all held in the center. The lunch was provided by Hill County Electric, the local cooperative which receives most of the power it distributes from Basin Electric Power Cooperative. Basin is a member of a new group of cooperatives planning to work together to use and share renewable energy. That group, the National Renewable Cooperative Association, was one of the issues brought up by speaker Carol Whitman of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association during her presentation at the Applied Technology Center. The arrival of the group, who traveled to Havre by bus from Great Falls Wednesday morning, happened to coincide with the arrival of a celebrity. “We’re really pleased to be able to time your arrival with the arrival of the world’s largest tractor,” Provost Joe Callahan said in his opening remarks. The Big Bud 747, built in Havre in 1978, arrived at the Applied Technology Center as the group was getting off the bus. Kegel said the timing was accidental. He said the college hopes to fill the tractor with biodiesel and convince television celebrity Jay Leno to come drive the vehicle. The vehicle’s owners, Robert and Randy Williams of Big Sandy, have agreed to have the tractor prepared to be filled with Montana-made biodiesel and pull 150 feet of duck-foot plow if Leno will agree to drive it, Kegel said. Kegel and members of the Bio-Energy Innovation and Testing Center staff gave a tour of the facility, including demonstrating machinery used to test different fuels on engines ranging from $350 Honda engines to $50,000 state-of-the-art diesel engines, showing the facility used to test the quality of biodiesel and rate it by international standards, and the quality assurance part of the center. Duane Acker, the former president of Kansas State University and a member of the steering committee, said he was very impressed with the facility. Having hands-on training such as Northern provides is getting harder and harder to find, he said. “This program is filling up a niche that is becoming more and more important” as most major engineering curriculums are evolving to a more theoretical approach, Acker said. “There is a tremendous need for, and opportunities for, these people with hands-on technological skills, and the understanding of (industry’s) products and processes,” Acker said. The group, after Acker completed his luncheon speech focusing on the role colleges and universities can play in developing renewable energy, got back on their bus to travel to Chester to tour the local renewable energy businesses on their agenda before heading to Fort Benton.