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Mississippi Alternative Energy Enterprise created to develop statewide plan

Alternative source development marries energy, environment

By the end of 2004, a prototype energy alternative (PEA) system that is affordable, efficient and effective should be in operation in Mississippi.

That’s the goal of the newly formed Mississippi Alternative Energy Enterprise, a division of the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA).

“Uncertainty of supply, price variation and dependence have reinforced the desire to meet a portion of the energy needs of a typical farm or residence in Mississippi independent from the typical sources of energy,” said Dr. Angeline “Angie” Dvorak, MTA president and CEO. “Our goal is an alternative for reduced dependence, not a goal of independence from traditional energy suppliers.”

Rep. Billy McCoy (D-Rienzi) initiated the alternative energy source development plan, with the help of Rep. Leonard Morris (D-Batesville) and other state lawmakers.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a part in some form or fashion of making the average home or business energy independent,” McCoy said. “It did not start with 9-11, but many years ago in my own mind. It’s been my goal to use the total absolute renewable sources of the sun, wind and thermal energy to produce power at my own farm and home and to be able to, for the most part, provide the power necessary for a small home, farm or business through innovative storage methods. When we first started talking about it, we wanted a prototype combination of these four possibilities to bring energy independence to small business.”

Last year, the Mississippi Legislature established the Land Water and Timber Resources Board, which is co-chaired by Mississippi Development Authority Chief Bob Rohrlack and Mississippi Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Lester Spell.

“We decided to work through the board, but we knew that neither MDA nor Spell’s office had time and personnel to really concentrate on it,” said McCoy. “We were so impressed with Dr. Dvorak, MTA and her board that we were hopeful they would join us and be the catalyst, the hub around which we rotated.”

After a presentation last November by McCoy about alternative energy source potential in the state, MTA jumped on board.

“This project was so parallel and consistent with the entire mission of MTA, that is, to bring the government’s academic and private sector together to accomplish economic development goals for the state of Mississippi,” Dvorak said. “Alternative energy is the perfect manifestation of that. We’ve brought together academic researchers working in alternative energy areas, government sectors with interests in that arena and private sector companies who are interested in or engaging in alternative energy or related energy activities.”

Earlier this year, lawmakers expanded the scope of Land Water and Timber Resources Board “to embrace alternative energy strategies for using Mississippi natural resources,” Dvorak said.

“We’ve put mouth and money into legislation to really be a total partner in this effort,” McCoy said.

Spell, who toured the Tennessee Valley Authority and met with U.S. congressional representatives earlier this year with a delegation that included McCoy and Dvorak, said the project has received “a great deal of emphasis.”

“We’re very excited about the possibilities,” he said.

Kenneth Calvin, director of MDA’s energy division, said MDA has “long looked at alternative energy sources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

“For example, farmers in the Delta could grow alternative fuel crops, such as switchgrass,” he said.

Switchgrass is a summer perennial grass that grows three to six feet in height and provides excellent cover for wildlife. An estimated 1,500 acres of switchgrass a year are required to produce one megawatt of electricity. If 1.4 million acres of switchgrass were planted for use as an energy feedstock, the energy produced would equal the electricity consumed by 800,000 homes annually, or the energy equivalent of three million tons of coal. Switchgrass has environmental benefits because even though it emits carbon dioxide when burned, it takes up an equal amount in its growth, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“There are also lots of opportunities in the state where waste product has energy value,” Calvin said. “At Piney Woods, for example, swine farm excess washes into a lagoon. By covering the lagoon and capturing the gasses emitted instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere, it was used to produce heat for water and barns.”

A broad-based steering group was created for the Mississippi Alternative Energy Enterprise, headed by project manager Tony Jeff. Two teams — a systems development team headed by Dr. John Plodinec, director of the Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory (DIAL) at Mississippi State University, and a community development team led by Charles “Bubba” Weir, vice president of community technology solutions for the Institute for Technology Solutions — are developing a working model of an alternative energy system.

“Right now, we’re trying to understand all the resources and bring together the right people to develop a long-term strategy,” said Jeff.

Current and potential partners include MDA, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Mississippi’s research universities, Mississippi Inventors Society, NASA/Stennis Center and private business, such as suppliers, engineers and designers, said McCoy.

“After all of this came together, we approached Sen. Cochran, who really likes the idea and some of his staff members have joined with us,” he said. “Glenn McCullough with TVA is interested. TVA is ahead of us on alternative energy source development. We desperately want our local power entities — Mississippi Power, Mississippi Valley Gas, Entergy and local EPAs — to get involved and they’ve shown a lot of interest. Our research institutions are with us, too. We couldn’t be better pleased.”

Dvorak said calculating a return on investment for alternative energy sources was difficult because cost savings shows only part of the big picture.

“Some forms of alternative energy are more expensive, but have strategic savings in the long run by adding economic benefits in the mix as well as creating new markets,” she said. “We’re very interested in that because of our agricultural byproducts.”

Dvorak pointed out that the project was unique because of its structure.

“We’ve talked to people all over the country and no one knows of any state that has taken this approach: a unified, concentrated group of the best and the brightest from the whole state across all three sectors, equally at the table from the very beginning to really build an alternative energy strategic agenda for our state and getting that support from the legislative and executive branches, too,” she said.

“We think that’s good for Mississippi. We’ve gotten tremendous support.”

Calvin added, “If you’re asking me whether or not we’re on the track in terms of looking at alternative energy solutions, I’d say yes, indeed. There are a lot of opportunities that Mississippi could take advantage of.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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