The Countertop Chronicles

"Run by a gun zealot who's too blinded by the NRA" - Sam Penney of

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Advancing Renewable Energy

St. Louis, The City of Blues

Took the early flight out to St. Louis today in preparation for the renewable fuels conference tomorrow.

As I’ve indicated, I will be live blogging it. Got in early, and headed out west and took a gorgeous drive along the bluffs of the Missouri River. Saw a couple of Red Tailed Hawks, as well as some real pretty foliage. Its fall here alright.

Staying at the Hilton at Busch Stadium. Here’s the City View from my room.

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The hotel is across the street from Busch Stadium and half the rooms have a view of the field. When I booked it, I was hopeful that the Mets would lose and I would get to take in a playoff game. Oh well, no such luck.

Big complaint against the Hilton. While they have free wifi in the lobby, they charge $9.95 a day to use their high speed internet in your room . . . and that requires a hard wire into their system. No wireless at all up in tower. Bummer. I am a Gold VIP member and have registered my disgust at their policy. I could have stayed at the Hampton Suites down the street, another Hilton Property, for less money and gotten free wifi. Or stayed at the Adams Mark, Hilton's big competitor here (and one of the worst values for the money hotels I've ever stayed in) and gotten free wifi. Or, even the Drury Inn across the street.

As for the conference tomorrow, it should be interesting. Knew ¾ of the people on my plane out here. Its certainly a mid west affair, but I wonder what the campaign value is if the majority of people there are actually from DC???

Highlights, of course, are the expected rollout by President Bush of his renewable fuels plan (read: ethanol) in advance of the election. Will it be enough to save Jim Talent? Who knows? I, and lots of others, have some serious concerns with ethanol.

One of the striking things I’ve seen in the new position is a fear of criticizing I tend to get nervous whenever anyone puts all their cookies in one basket. With the midwest and the agricultural community (not a group that has been known for the depths of its critical thinking and planning over the years) I can see this same pattern emerging again. As I meet more and more aggies, and especially folks from the Midwest corn states, I get the sense that criticizing ethanol (and the outrageous financial support it recieves from the .gov) is the equivalent of being a long haired hippy throwing off on mom and apple pie. Seriously.

The result, of course, is that if the corn folks get their way in the coming farm bill, there will be grave long term consequences. Before we go down that path, we really need an honest and serious conversation - with full economic disclosure and understanding.

There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. Yet midwestern corn growers and their political backers, seem to ignore this and believe they can generate enough energy from corn to profitably generate energy.

They can't. Not without significant governemnt bailouts.

Of course, the path we are heading down right now is likely to lead to $3.00/bushel corn. Will that be good for farmers? The environment? I doubt it.

The ethanol bubble is likely to blow over in 5 years. In that short period of time though, what will be the economic harm imposed by short sighted corn growers on the overall economy in general, and on their feed customers in particular. And by feed, I don't only mean cattle and hogs and chicken, but also all those customers who depend upon corn syrup (In that vein, I urge you to read the Omnivores Dilemma. Michael Pollen’s book on the link between petroleum, e-corn, and everything else, is a fascinating must read.) Ethanol will force them to go overseas and find new supplies.

Is that what America's corn growers really want? More competition?

While it sounds good to say, lets get off foreign oil, a conversion to ethanol means the price of nearly everything (assuming Michael Pollen is even a smidgen correct) will go through the roof, especially all the foods that rely on corn and corn sugar.

Furthermore, the latest forcoasts coming from Iowa show that within that same five year time period, at current rates of expansion, Iowa will end up being a net deficit corn state. Imagine the political costs when Iowans find it necessary to import corn because they can no longer buy their own corn?

I, and I like to think other thinking AMericans, prefer a robust and health market of energy alternatives to a reliance on one source. Sure, ethanol and other sources of bio mass energy should be part of this (if it eventually become cost effective) as should wind, and hydro, and solar, and oil, and gas, and nukes.

Only time will tell what happens with America's energy future, but tomorrow promises to provide at least part of the forcast.

I hope to bring you the blow by blow, as well as the occasional photo of the exhibits and the speakers. Who knows, I might even pull off some video of Bush.


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