Keep It On the Farm
By EV World
John Hansen has been elected six times as the president of the Nebraska Farmer's Union (NeFU), and is the secretary of the National Farmer's Union (NFU). Prior to assuming his post at the NeFU, he operated a diversified cattle and grain operation in Madison County, Nebraska. In this address at the Re-Energize America town hall meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, Hansen described how his organization, which is made up of more than 430 farmers cooperatives across the state, has traditionally taken on important causes, often with great odds against them.
One of the issues that his organization championed in the 1960s is what was then called "gasohol". Today we call it ethanol, which now comes in various commercial blends from E10 to E85. The NeFU was instrumental, he noted, in eventually getting the Unicameral into setting up the State Ethanol Board.
"One of the things that is forgotten when we talk about ethanol is [that] it has always enjoyed the support of a substantial amount of the environmental community, the labor community and the farm community."
As a result of this grassroots effort and collaboration with these various stakeholders, Nebraska is the third largest ethanol producer in the country "…but not for long, we'll be second," Hansen added., pointing out that the state presently has 12 operating ethanol plants and six more under construction.
From his perspective of being involved in the ethanol issue for the last 32 years, he believes Nebraska's renewable energy industry -- which includes biofuels and wind -- is still in its infancy. He explained that he began working on cellulosic ethanol 14 years ago, working with then Governor Nelson to secure funding for cellulosic research.
While he is delighted that the rest of society is finally catching up to where "my organization has been for a long time", Hansen said that his group is already looking ahead.
"It seems to me the greatest single opportunity for progress that marries the need for renewable energy development and rural economic development is to make it not only possible for farmers and ranchers to become the owners of the renewable energy plants across the state of Nebraska but we need to figure out how to put them first in line, so that the folks who own those plants and come from those communities are using those profits to reinvest back into their communities to continue to grow the rural economy.
Hansen makes a strong case, based on reports from the GAO, ASE and others, for local ownership of renewable energy production facilities from ethanol and biodiesel plants to farm and ranch-owned wind turbines. Local ownership provides far more economic benefit than outside corporate ownership, he contends.
"We're missing the boat if we don't put the emphasis on community-farmer ownership," he stated.
This applies to biofuels and wind, one of the state's least developed renewable resources. He noted that while Nebraska is ranked sixth in wind potential, it is ranked 18th in terms of actual development of that resource.
"I guess the way to look at that is that we've got a lot of upside potential," he said tongue-in-cheek.
He sees the Minnesota-based "community-owned wind power" model as one of the most promising ways to continue future rural economic growth beyond just biofuels.
"It is creating an enormously positive economic outcome and creates the political drivers to move wind energy forward in the State of Minnesota. That model can be moved to Nebraska and if it is applied properly, it is not a threat to public power. It can complement public power. And it can and should harness all the private sector incentives available to incent (sic) wind energy development in this country, so that the people at the local level can use those incentives, partner with public power players and create low-cost, renewable energy that also takes a slice, just a slice of that coal money we've been sending to Wyoming as ratepayers. Instead, we send it out into rural communities (in Nebraska) where it really needs to go."
He concluded, that with respect to power issues, "if it is really important to society as a whole, you simply can't leave it to the marketplace, because those folks with deep pockets and vested interests will continue to run public policy in a fashion that works to their economic interest at the public interest, time after time.
"So, if you and I want an energy future, you and I are going to have to get involved, get educated, build the political coalition, and go shape that future ourselves."
You can listen to John Hansen's complete 16:20 minute address using either of the two MP3 players in the right hand column or by downloading the file to your computer hard drive for later playback on your favorite MP3 device. This file will also be available on the Apple iTunes Podcast service.
Watch for more presentations from the Re-Energize America series here on EV World.