Monday, December 31, 2007

Subsidy Costs

America's love-affair with ethanol is dissed in the February 2008 Popular Mechanics:
We can reduce our dependence on oil—stop sending U.S. dollars to corrupt petro-dictators, stop spewing megatons of carbon into the atmos¬phere—by replacing it with clean, home-grown, all-American corn. It sounds too good to be true.

Sadly, it is.

Of course we need alternatives to oil. The world uses a cubic mile of petroleum each year, and demand keeps rising as the global economy booms. At first glance, corn seems like a heaven-sent substitute. American corn farmers are the most productive in the world, growing far more of the grain than we can possibly eat, and exporting mountains of the stuff to other countries. And the corn kernel is a marvel of energy storage. Converting that compact bundle of starches into alcohol is a relatively simple trick known to generations of moonshiners. So why not build corn liquor stills on an industrial scale and use the output to power our cars and trucks?

That’s exactly what this country has been doing for the past several years. Some 134 ethanol plants are now in operation, consuming close to 1.6 billion bushels of grain, about 15 percent of our total corn production. To feed the ethanol machine, farmers planted almost 93 million acres of corn in 2007, a 19 percent increase over the previous year, and the highest figure since 1944 (when yields per acre were far lower).

The result is that the country is now experiencing an ethanol glut. Prices are sagging—as are plans to build ethanol refineries from sea to shining sea. Yet many in Washington seem determined to force still more ethanol into the system. The just-passed Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which President Bush has said he will sign, mandates corn ethanol usage of 15 billion gal. a year (more than three times today’s consumption) by 2015. And presidential candidates have outdone each other with vows to flood the nation with ever-increasing rivers of ethanol for at least a generation.

It’s great that our politicians have discovered the need for new energy technologies. . . But, instead of promoting experimentation and competition to find the best solutions, politicians seem ready to declare ethanol the winner. As a result, our nation could wind up with the worst of both worlds: an “alternative” energy that is enormously expensive yet barely saves a gallon of oil.
(via Conservative Grapevine)

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