From The Edgerton Reporter’s National Agriculture Week
By Jason Francis – The Edgerton Reporter
Ethanol has been fueling a heated debate in Wisconsin the past year, as a bill requiring all regular unleaded gasoline to contain 10 percent ethanol by late 2007 was proposed in the state legislature.
The measure passed the Assembly in December and had the support of Gov. Jim Doyle, but the Senate narrowly voted to table the matter probably until next January.
Critics of the bill say there are too many unanswered questions about ethanol’s potential impact on gas prices, the environment, engines and fuel efficiency. Critics also stood in opposition to the bill on principal because it would be a government mandate.
But former state Sen. Bob Welch and an army of other supporters of the bill argue that the use of ethanol would lead to decreased reliance on foreign oil, the addition of thousands of jobs in the ethanol industry, and improved farming economy and cheaper gas for consumers.
“Ethanol is good for Wisconsin, good for consumers, good for your engine, good for the environment and good for America.” said Welch.
Now a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Ethanol Coalition and Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Welch was the speaker at the Edgerton Rotary Club ‘Farm Day’ program on March 21 in honor of National Agriculture week.
Ethanol is a fuel additive typically made from corn. Ethanol is also used in alcoholic beverages.
Currently, there are 18 ethanol refineries in Minnesota and 12 in Iowa (with three more on the way).
In Wisconsin, there are only four refineries, which produce 200 million gallons of ethanol per year. But four more plants will open within 18 months in the state, including one in Milton. The plants use about 20% of Wisconsin’s corn crops, which ranked sixth in the nation in production in 2004.
“We are moving quickly to catch up with other states,” said Welch, a 20-year veteran of the state legislature..
The opening of ethanol plants mean the addition, on average of 250 well-paying jobs, he said.
“The average wage at an ethanol plant is $50,000 a year with full benefits. These are not McDonald’s jobs, these are high-paying, skilled, manufacturing-era kind of jobs we don’t see much of anymore.”
Each ethanol refiner also translates into the addition of $110 million to the local economy, leading to the creation of 100 to 500 jobs, Welch added.
With common use of ethanol in gas, the price per bushel of corn farmers receive would increase seven to 19 cents, Welch said.
“For you non-farmers that may not sound like a lot. But for you guys that farm, that is like doubling the profits.”
There are currently two types of ethanol gas available at some gas stations in the state now, E10 and E85.
E10 includes 10 percent ethanol, E85 contains 85 percent ethanol
E10 can be used in almost all vehicles made since 1980, but E85 can be used in only a select amount of vehicles because it can hinder fuel delivery systems over time.
Flex-fuel vehicles, which are made by General Motors, Ford and some other carmakers, are designed to allow the use of E85.
“Our homegrown auto companies…have a huge advantage over the foreign companies in terms of flex-fuel vehicles.” said Welch.
According to a USA Today article, Ford estimates that five million flex-fuel vehicles are currently on the road. GM is pledging to build more than 400,000 of the vehicles per annually starting this year.
Oil companies are resisting the ethanol revolution because of the high profit margin involved in their industry, said Welch.
“They make more money when they drill (oil), when they ship it, when they pope it, when they refine it, when they wholesale it and then finally that 10 cents at the end.”
Out of 4,273 gas stations in the state, about 4,000 are controlled by the “big oil companies,” Welch said.
In Minnesota, where E10 is already used extensively, people pay on average about 10 cents less per gallon than in Wisconsin, he said. E85 runs 60 per gallon lower in Minnesota than regular gas in Wisconsin.
There are some drawbacks to the use of ethanol in fuel. For example, using E10, gas mileage decreases by between one and three percent.
But having slightly low air pressure in tires can lower mileage that much, said Welch, and the savings E10 affords customers more than makes up for the cost of the mileage drop.
The environmental impact of using ethanol for fuel is also debatable on a few fronts, though Welch said the positives easily surpass the negatives.
E10 burns cleaner than gas. It reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 25-50 percent, toxic benzene by 25 percent, particulate matter by 50 percent and greenhouse gases by 19 percent, Welch noted.
But in a report released in September, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources finds that requiring 10 percent ethanol at all the state’s gas pumps would pollute the air as much as a 350-megawatt coal-fired power plant and would likely result in more counties being identified in ozone health advisories.
“This is a short-term debate, however, because as we move to E85, there is no longer any debate. E85 is better for the environment times eight (than E10),” Welch said.
The ethanol bill did have the support of numerous environmental groups.
Another plus of ethanol is that it is a renewable resource.
“We grow the corn in Wisconsin, process it in Wisconsin, truck it to the stations in Wisconsin and you put it in your car,” said Welch.
“And next year they plant the corn again.”
Noting that much of our countries oil comes from Middle Eastern countries, Welch’s speech before the Rotary Club ended on a somber not.
“Every place in the world that has oil – almost unanimously – they are not nice people,” Welch said.
Countries like Iran, Libya and Venezuela all support themselves with the sale of oil, he said.
“They are making their money off us. We are paying them to build bombs to blow up our soldiers.”
If the united States mandated the use of E10, it could cease the importation of oil from Saudi Arabia, Welch said.
“Seventy cents out of every dollar spent at a gas station (in the United States) goes overseas. With ethanol, 70 cents of every dollar stays here.. That is a very big deal.”
The United States should follow in Brazil’s path, Welch said.
“Right now in Brazil every car has to be a flex-fuel vehicle and they are burning between 40 percent and 100 percent ethanol in every car in that country. They are completely energy efficient.
“They did it and we can do it.”
The bill requiring E10 gasoline is expected to be considered by the state legislature again early next year.