Plenty of benefits of renewables

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 17 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:15 am in

By Ed Ulch


Ethanol and biodiesel save us money at the pump, improve our health and the environment, help the economy grow and increase America’s security by reducing the need for foreign oil. These facts stand in stark contrast to the questions posed by Merle Ries (“Ethanol fails to help consumers,” Jan. 5).

The U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Biofuels Digest and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization don’t agree often. But their own studies and analysis underscore the benefits of renewable fuels. A few examples:

l Today’s 10 percent ethanol blend provides nearly the same miles-per-gallon as regular gasoline. The addition of ethanol to gasoline increases the octane while at the same time lowering the price of a 10 percent blend by 30 cents per gallon. The lower price — which means more money in your pocket — is accomplished by the inclusion of lower-cost corn ethanol used in the blend (there are no refining costs subsidized by Iowa taxpayers).

l Ethanol production has doubled since 2007; biodiesel production has more than doubled. Corn prices are up 4.8 percent for that period while total inflation is 11 percent. During this same time, oil prices increased 49.9 percent.

l Farmers have responded to the increased need for feed, food and fuel. Corn production is up 7.3 percent. This yield increase was achieved using less fertilizer, water and energy per bushel. Furthermore, corn ethanol’s byproduct (dried distillers grains) provides an economical livestock feed.

l Biodiesel production has increased and with it, the value of soybean oil. As a result, the cost of soybean meal for feeding livestock has decreased — a benefit to livestock farmers and consumers.

l Asserting that biofuel production increases food prices is speculation. Unlike with oil, we do not have a finite supply of ingredients needed to make renewable fuels. Since 2000, U.S. soybean production has increased by almost 500 million bushels while corn is up almost 4 billion bushels.

l Retail food prices associated with grains have not increased substantially. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports overall annual food spending per household has increased by $466 since 2007 — from $6,133 to $6,599 (or 7.6 percent). During that same time, milk prices are down 11 percent while egg prices have decreased by 8.3 percent. Chicken and pork prices are up 8 percent to 9 percent (and below the 11 percent inflation rate during the same period).

l Since 2007, oil prices have increased 49.9 percent. In comparison, retail diesel prices have gone up 35.6 percent while gasoline has increased 25.2 percent. Why the difference? The inclusion of lower-cost biofuels derived from corn and soybeans.

l With regards to the environment and health, carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced by almost 11 percent since 2007. Almost three-fourths of that is attributed to biofuels.

l The production of biofuels creates and sustains more than a quarter million jobs, many in Iowa because we lead the nation in ethanol and biodiesel production.

l Our nation’s dependence on foreign oil has declined by 51 percent since 2007. More than one third of that is attributed to homegrown biofuels.

Ed Ulch, a Solon area farmer, is a director for the Iowa Soybean Association and is vice chairman of the National Biodiesel Board. Comments:

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