Demand 'grows' for renewable energy

Wednesday, November 12th 2008, 7:38 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The falling gas prices aren't halting efforts here in Oklahoma to capitalize on the growing demand for renewable energy. In fact, the state's "Grow" conference kicked off downtown Wednesday.

The Governor created the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center in 2007 to fuel, so to speak, the development of the biofuel industry in Oklahoma and now the state is showing that it truly wants to be a leader in the industry.

Evidence of that is a thousand acre stretch near Guymon, seeded entirely with switchgrass earlier this year, as part of the state's effort to advance the research on cellulose-based ethanol production.

The two-day conference is giving Oklahoma producers a chance to hear from state and national experts on biofuels on everything from new developments in feedstocks to the funding picture in Washington.

"It sounds like President-elect Obama has a very strong agricultural alternative energy policy, so everything that's been put into place, I think, is going to get continued, if not expanded," Steven Rhines, Vice President of the Noble Foundation, said.

To help lessen our dependence on foreign oil, Congress has called for the production of 36 billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2022.

Oklahoma could be a prime player in reaching that goal since more than half of that would come from feedstocks other than corn, grasses and other biomass that are indigenous to Oklahoma.

"In addition to that, we have a culture here that is built around refining and so you have the two aspects that are critical to biofules, which is you have the feedstock and you have the conversion technology that are rooted in Oklahoma history and in the Oklahoma economy," David Fleischaker, Oklahoma Energy Secretary, said.

Experts said there's still much research to be done, but said this has the potential to sustain and enrich Oklahoma's two heritage industries -- agriculture and energy.

"Our producers need to understand what are the challenges, what are the economic benefits to them and how do they participate in the industry," Rhines said.

Governor Brad Henry formally endorsed the so-called 25-by-25 Vision Wednesday; a campaign aimed ensuring that renewable energy sources comprise 25 percent of the nation's total energy needs by the year 2025.

A University of Tennessee study shows Oklahoma stands to benefit greatly from the 25-by-25 plan, possibly generating an additional $13 billion in annual economic activity and an additional 135 thousand jobs.