Will Illinois Clean-Energy Projects Survive the Farm Bill?

The following story was published by the Public News Service.

July 9, 2012

PEARL CITY, Ill. – Farmers in Illinois and around the nation are watching as the U.S. House takes up its version of the national Farm Bill this week.

When the House Agriculture Committee starts work on the measure it will considers deeper cuts than in the Farm Bill that passed in the Senate. One concern among farmers and environmentalists is the fate of the clean energy title, which has received no mandatory funding in the House version.

Pearl City, Illinois dairy farmer Doug Block financed his methane digester with such funds. On the Hunter Haven Farm, it turns the manure from 800 cows into methane that creates plenty of electricity.

“We do produce more electricity, twice as much electricity as what we’re using on the dairy.”

He says the digester produces heat for his buildings as well, and helps cut down on pollution by taking trucks off the road.

“It’s allowed us to produce all of our bedding on the farm, and that’s huge, because previously we were bringing a semi-load of sawdust down from central Wisconsin every ten days.”

Block says that, without the matching grant he received from the energy title in the Farm Bill, it would have taken him at least 20 years to modernize his operation.

Andy Olsen, senior policy advocate with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says the energy title funding in the Farm Bill has provided 350 awards worth $16 million to help Illinois farmers with all kinds of clean energy projects besides the digesters, such as wind power, solar energy and biofuel.

He says these technologies are now proven and commercially available, but without mandatory funding they may be out of reach for many rural Illinoisans.

“We’ve really only begun to scratch the surface for the ability of our farms to produce renewable energy.”

Without re-authorization from Congress, the energy title programs in the Farm Bill will expire on September 30.

The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to begin marking up the Farm Bill on Wednesday, July 11.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service – IL