This article was originally published on March 29, 2006.

Over 100 local residents attended the Alternative Energy Conference on Thursday, March 23, 2006 at the Greenwich Elks Lodge. The Conference, which was sponsored by the Washington County Farm Bureau, focused on delivering information about Ethanol, Bio-Mass, Wind Power and other forms of alternative energy to an audience composed primarily of farmers.

When one thinks about who is going to lead Washington County’s economy into the 21st Century, few among us would first think of farmers. But if the optimism of the presenters at this Conference can be turned into reality, farmers it will be.

Thomas Lindberg, Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets set the tone for the day when he spoke of the need to “bring idle agricultural land into the production of energy crops”. Mr. Lindberg was the keynote speaker and addressed an Overview of Opportunities & The Governor’s Proposals. Crops such as corn, soy or willow, can be converted into ethanol and thus become a source for renewable energy. He went on to speak of how “we have an opportunity to transform agriculture” into an agent to help break our dependence upon foreign oil. As meteorologists warn of the dangers of the next cycle of large-scale hurricanes, “the largest spike in fuel prices in thirty years was caused by one storm”. While no one is happy with current high-energy costs, those prices have now made alternative energy competitive with fossil fuels.

Mr. Lindberg spoke of how moving towards renewable energy can help New York’s economy grow. Instead of continuing reliance upon large-scale energy plants, small-scale ethanol and biomass plants and wind installations instead rely upon local contractors and engineers for construction and maintenance. Because many of these facilities are located in rural areas, the economic benefits will help the parts of the state that most need a jolt.

Among the research projects currently underway in New York is a joint project between International Paper and the State University of New York to develop a renewable fuel source for the IP plant in Ticonderoga.

A number of the speakers, including Mr. Lindberg, spoke of how the Alternative Energy field has been energized by both Governor Pataki’s State of the State speech when he mentioned the need to create ethanol refineries and by President Bush when he spoke in his State of the Nation address of ” . . . producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years”. Both statements, along with the Congressional mandate to double our nations capacity of renewable fuels by 2012, are helping drive interest and investment.

bio-fuels conferenceAnn Peck, Project Coordinator for Empire Biofuels of Newark, New York, spoke of her company’s efforts to develop the first large scale Ethanol refinery in New York State, tentatively scheduled for construction in Seneca Falls. There are currently 95 ethanol refineries in the United States, mostly located in the Mid-West, with another 29 plants under construction. Eleven percent of the US corn crop is devoted to ethanol production. Each Ethanol refinery averages creating 35 on-site well paying new jobs and an additional 30 new jobs for existing businesses. Each plant contributes two million dollars to its local tax base. Because of Washington County’s proximity to the Port of Albany and existing rail lines, this area could easily become an exporter of refined Ethanol beyond the local market.

Ms. Peck said, “Currently 10% of all gasoline contains ethanol as a fuel additive that helps meet clean air standards”. “Ethanol works”.

Jeff DeWeese of NextGen Fuel, Inc. then addressed the conference on Biodiesel Opportunities for Farmers. When we think of the diesel engine today, many of us associate it with belching smoke from the big rigs that travel our nation’s highways. But “. . . Rudolph Diesel developed his engine to run on peanut oil”. As alternative fuels are being grown and refined into biodiesel, the diesel engine has come full cycle.

One of the big advantages of bio-diesel, is its small scale. For instance NextGen Fuel manufactures a 5 million gallon plant that ” . . . would fit inside this room”. They are in the process of building their first plant in Fulton, NY, along side a new Ethanol facility. NextGen is also in exploratory talks with the Port of Albany about placing a facility there as well.

The growth of bio-diesel has been explosive. US production in 1999 was half a million gallons. Last year it was 75 million gallons. The average refining cost for a gallon of biodiesel today is $2.00. There are currently 53 biodiesel plants operating in the United States. Mr DeWeese spoke of the three opportunities for farmers to take advantage of biodiesel. They can grow it (he mentioned that New York State currently estimates that there are 244,000 acres of idle agricultural land in the state); crush it to extract the needed oils for refining or to process it.

Kevin Schulte, a Senior Vice President of Sustainable Energy Developments of Ontario, New York spoke about Wind In Your Community. There are currently 4 wind farms in New York State, the largest of which is located on the Tug Hill Plateau, to the east of Lake Ontario. There are 3 basic types of Wind facilities; wind farms which sell energy directly to the grid; individual facilities which are used to supplement the grid for individuals and farms, and medium sized installations which are primarily found in educational and industrial settings.

New York, being the 17th windiest state, is ideally situated to become a leader in this field. Mr. Schulte’s firm is currently developing plans for municipally owned Wind Farms for Albany, Sullivan and Wayne Counties.

While the cost of an individual 10k wind installation might seem high ($54,000), 50 percent of the money is refundable through the Program Opportunity Notice 792 program of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Local school officials should take note of the fact that they are eligible for a 70% reimbursement.

Also addressed at the conference were Manure Digestion and Willow, Grasses, Wood and Corn as Biomass fuels.

Other than a brief appearance by Assemblyman Roy McDonald, it was disappointing that the local political leadership chose to ignore this event. There was much to be learned, from how the need will arise for small-scale industrial plants to facilitate future alternative energy (which will create local jobs and tax revenues) to the leading role that Albany County officials are playing.

Interest during the daylong conference was high. It will exciting to see which energy paths our neighbor farmers lead us down in the years to come.

This reporter could not help but notice that a number of speakers spoke of the advantages of small-scale energy production, whether it be Bio-Mass, Wind or Pellet. Their arguments, such as helping local economies, sounded similar to the arguments put forth by Mao Tse-Tung a generation ago when he argued for small-scale steel plants scattered across the Chinese countryside. It goes to show that a good idea is not bound by ideologies, we can learn even from those whom we consider enemies.

Additional information can be found at the following websites:
Sustainable Energy Developments –
NextGen Fuel, Inc –
National Corn Growers Association –
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority –
New York Farm Bureau –
Washington County Farm Bureau –