By Leigh Pomeroy
Wanda Patsche’s My View (Feb. 13) entitled “Electric vehicle mandates will hurt farmers” is unfortunately based on outdated information and, as often happens, a bit of politicking by vested interests wanting to keep their revenue streams going without having to adapt to the future.
Let’s be clear: Both fossil fuels and biofuels are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, either directly or indirectly. That’s one reason why fuel is so cheap in this country as compared to most other nations.
These subsidies were established to get fuel technologies going — fossil fuels in the early part of the 20th century and biofuels in 1980. Estimates for U.S. fossil fuel subsidies range depending upon how they’re counted, starting at $20 billion (Environmental and Energy Study Institute) and going all the way to $649 billion (International Monetary Fund)…per year!
To make biofuels competitive, it would have made sense to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. But no, Congress doesn’t work that way. Instead, our representatives decided to subsidize biofuels.
In the mid-2000s, Congress did away with the direct ethanol subsidy and replaced it with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), requiring refineries to blend a certain percentage of ethanol into the gasoline they sold.
Yet the U.S. government still subsidizes (mostly large) farmers for growing corn. In 2019, for instance, the U.S. taxpayers subsidized corn production to the tune of about $2.7 billion (Environmental Working Group). Since roughly 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop goes to ethanol, that means taxpayers subsidize corn ethanol at over $1 billion per year.
Further, growing corn for ethanol is a very inefficient way of producing energy. The energy input versus energy output is only 1 to 1.3 — that is, it takes one unit of energy to yield 1.3 units of energy.
Solar panels, on the other hand, after they recoup the energy used in their manufacture — roughly two to four years, according to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory — have an infinite energy yield vs. input over the remainder of their 25-year lifespan.
Recent research shows that putting solar on farm land produces a greater benefit for the farmer and the environment, producing as much as fifteen times the energy as corn ethanol per acre (HowStuffWorks).
And if a farmer chooses to install an agrivoltaic system, where solar panels are placed high enough above the land to allow crops or animal grazing underneath, he or she can yield revenue from both solar and conventional agriculture.
Using wind and solar to fuel electrified transportation is the future, not only for passenger vehicles but for trucks, buses, and industrial and farm equipment. And while that is taking a while to occur in the United States, it’s rapidly happening in China, Europe and elsewhere in the world.
The United States has a history of subsidizing new technologies. The problem is that industries helped with subsidies too often become addicted to those incentives. They don’t want them to go away. And they loudly complain whenever new technologies arise that request similar help.
The best solution to this situation would be for existing subsidies and mandates for fossil fuels and biofuels be pared back so that newer technologies like wind, solar and batteries have a fair playing field. But since that’s not going to happen, those new technologies, including electric vehicles, need some help getting established.
Absent a fair playing field, we need to encourage the electrification of our transportation systems for the benefit not only of our environment but of our long-term financial well-being. And that is the purpose of the proposed clean car standards.
Leigh Pomeroy advocates for clean energy and tackling the challenge of climate change. He lives in Mankato.