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Mississippi set to play role in producing renewable energy

JACKSON — As Americans grapple with rising energy prices and a dependence on foreign oil, there’s a bold new initiative to change that picture by the year 2025, and Mississippi is playing a leading role. The Mississippi Farm Bureau, led by president David Waide, is joining forces with others across the country to endorse 25x’25 as a national goal.

The idea behind 25x’25 is that the country’s farms, ranches and forests will provide 25% of America’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2025. There’s energy potential from a wide range of sources: wind, solar, methane, ethanol and biodiesel. A bi-partisan group of senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., introduced 25x’25 as a national goal and the vision is gaining momentum.

“We believe the time has come for concerned citizens to work collectively and bring this vision to life,” said Waide. “We are convinced that America’s farms, ranches and forests can become suppliers for a new generation of fuels and energy feed stocks. At the same time, we’ll contribute to a cleaner environment and enhance rural economic development.”
As head of the large grassroots organization in Mississippi, he says every opportunity — any type of meeting — is being used to educate members and others about this potential. “We specifically want to become energy self sufficient. That’s my goal as an American,” Waide said. “And, we want farmers to be able to sell energy and get some value from it as a business venture.”

He said the technologies that could turn this vision into reality are rapidly emerging and providing new, more efficient solutions. “In the past decade, there have been great strides in biofuel technology and manufacturing facilities, substantially improving the efficiency of this fuel source. Mississippi will be the site of great advances in the development of fuel and energy alternatives,” he said.

The Farm Bureau has 235,000 member families in the state and many of those are getting on board as interest and attention grows. Some farmers are producing energy from plant and animal wastes to fuel their own operations.

“Several are trying to produce methane-generated gas by internal combustion engines from animal wastes,” Waide said. “They see it as a business opportunity and a way to reduce one of their highest expenses, energy. The hang up is in the resell of it to the energy grid. There are a lot of liabilities to address, such as making sure the energy is compatible.”

Additionally, Gov. Haley Barbour and the Legislature are working on committees to further enhance Mississippi’s role in 25x’25. This group will join a network of state alliances working to further the initiative.

“I understand that the governor will appoint an energy commission and the Legislature will appoint a committee from their members and others to form a state alliance,” Waide said. “We want lawmakers and those who set public policies on the alliance.”

Although a relatively small number of Farm Bureau members actually have something in the works, he says many are interested and will participate in a cooperative effort when the organization gets that going. Agriculture, he believes, can solve the world’s problems.

“I’ve always believed that. If you have a population that’s fed, clothed and housed, then they’re content with government and their own standard of living” he said. “Agriculture provides many of those needs.”

Noting that America imports 60% to 70% of its energy from countries “that don’t like us,” Waide says it’s a worthy goal for Americans to become self-dependent in less than 10 years. “We can do it if we commit ourselves to it,” he said. “If these foreign oil producers had somewhere else to send their oil, they wouldn’t sell it to us. The energy demand is growing and agriculture can supply a lot of that from non traditional sources, not from crude oil.”

The 25x’25 initiative has a grant from the Ted Turner Foundation to explore renewable sources of energy to lessen dependence on foreign energy. As the price of crude oil has moved up, making renewable products more competitive, that interest has grown, according to Waide.

“With the increased focus after Hurricane Katrina and current world events,” he said, “it’s made it easier to get people’s attention. Everybody is getting on board and that’s the most important step.”

He says farmers and others have to be able to produce energy in great quantities and make it available to do the most good. “We are trying to create a feedstock environment with what biomass is readily available in each state,” he said.
Waide, a Clay County soybean and corn farmer, says he is personally interested in producing this type of energy. The best part of this renewable energy is that it’s environmentally friendly. He feels that while the price of energy is driving the interest in renewable sources, the environment will be a key element going forward.

“Because of the damage fossil fuels cause to the environment, now we have a lot of new players who think renewable energy is environmentally compatible. All farmers are the best environmentalists in the world. You can’t find better than them and it’s certainly one of the most regulated environments anywhere,” he said. “They don’t get credit for that.”

To learn more about 25x’25, visit www.25×25.org.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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