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McBride: Mississippi needs an alternative fuels clearinghouse

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., to discuss transportation issues with national leaders, Rep. Warner McBride, chairman of the State House of Representative’s Transportation Committee, learned much about the work in alternative fuels going on across the nation and the world. However, he also left with a burning question.

“I left there realizing I did not know what was going on in Mississippi,” McBride said. “Who’s doing what, and where? What do we have now? Can we be a player in the future? How can the state enhance our efforts in alternative fuels? We need to be better organized. We need a clearinghouse.”

To that end, on October 30 McBride presided over a Transportation Committee hearing at the State Capitol to hear from the alternative fuel industry and its supporters as a first step toward getting a handle on just what Mississippi has to offer now in terms of alternative/synthetic fuels, and what the state’s future possibilities are in that arena.

“What we need to remember is that as we talk today, we are not looking five years down the road, 10 years down the road,” McBride said. “We need to be thinking 50 years from now, 100 years from now. What we talk about here today will affect our children and grandchildren.”

Good position

Presenters not only included representatives of energy companies such as Denbury Resources, Chevron Products Company, General Atomics and Atmos Energy, but also from economic development organizations such as the Mississippi Development Authority, Delta Council and Delta Regional Authority, government relations and legislative counsel firm The PMA Group and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Presenters talked about the pluses Mississippi held in alternative fuel production, and several on the panel pointed to the hearing itself as a very positive sign.

“I go to national conferences and workshops all the time, and most of the time Mississippi is one of just a few states that participate — sometimes we’re the only ones,” said Monty Montgomery, energy development specialist at the Mississippi Development Authority. “People come up to me and say they can’t believe Mississippi is interested in alternative fuels and is being proactive. This hearing is another example of how proactive we are here.”

Gary Hopper, vice president of San Diego, Calif.-based General Atomics said, “We are encouraged by your Committee’s interest in biofuel technologies and your commitment to providing resources at the state level to identify and then demonstrate the best renewable energy technologies for Mississippi’s unique climate, resources and geographic location.”

Turning the spigot

Montgomery furnished “Energy in Mississippi: An Overview,” which outlined all of the resources and infrastructure in place that would serve Mississippi well, not the least of which is the state’s geographical location.

He added that he often goes to meetings where the issue of carbon sequestration is a hot topic. Montgomery said he relaxes then, and pointed to Dallas-based Denbury Resources, which captures CO2 and uses it to extract crude oil.

“People ask, ‘What are smiling about?’ Montgomery said. “I tell them we don’t have a carbon sequestration problem in Mississippi. We have Denbury Resources.”

Blair Jernigan, COO of Clarksdale-based Delta Regional Authority, said Mississippi has some significant advantages. However, while the hearing was supposed to look a half-century or more in the future, he said time is of the essence.

“I made the Washington trip with Chairman McBride, and we went to the Pentagon and discussed the Department of Defense’s alternative fuels needs,” Jernigan said. “They didn’t want to hear about research and development. They wanted to know what we could deliver. They want the spigot on. We just have to get the spigot open.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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