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Thune a pivotal player in energy debate

Renewable energy is proving to be an oasis of cooperation amid conflict in Congress, but technology probably will determine how long that lasts and how much South Dakota benefits. A U.S. Senate committee last week passed a measure by a 20-3 vote increasing ethanol production seven-fold. The majority included a proxy vote by Sen. Tim Johnson, according to a spokeswoman. Sen. John Thune proposed a major tax break for wind energy, and this week will hear arguments for increasing vehicle fuel-economy standards.

Renewable energy is proving to be an oasis of cooperation amid conflict in Congress, but technology probably will determine how long that lasts and how much South Dakota benefits.

A U.S. Senate committee last week passed a measure by a 20-3 vote increasing ethanol production seven-fold. The majority included a proxy vote by Sen. Tim Johnson, according to a spokeswoman.

Sen. John Thune proposed a major tax break for wind energy, and this week will hear arguments for increasing vehicle fuel-economy standards.

Those and other measures could become part of a larger energy bill focused on renewables. But cooperation could fizzle without technological improvements, such as the ability to make ethanol from cellulose or to meet the nation's electricity needs without nuclear power.

"There is a real convergence right now of a lot of things. One is the growing concern that we have about foreign energy," Thune said. "Two, the growing concern about global warming.

"Three, the technology continues to develop to where some of these energy sources are more viable."

Making ethanol from grass and wood could ensure continued political support for the fuel, said Bob Burns, head of... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Renewable energy is proving to be an oasis of cooperation amid conflict in Congress, but technology probably will determine how long that lasts and how much South Dakota benefits.

A U.S. Senate committee last week passed a measure by a 20-3 vote increasing ethanol production seven-fold. The majority included a proxy vote by Sen. Tim Johnson, according to a spokeswoman.

Sen. John Thune proposed a major tax break for wind energy, and this week will hear arguments for increasing vehicle fuel-economy standards.

Those and other measures could become part of a larger energy bill focused on renewables. But cooperation could fizzle without technological improvements, such as the ability to make ethanol from cellulose or to meet the nation's electricity needs without nuclear power.

"There is a real convergence right now of a lot of things. One is the growing concern that we have about foreign energy," Thune said. "Two, the growing concern about global warming.

"Three, the technology continues to develop to where some of these energy sources are more viable."

Making ethanol from grass and wood could ensure continued political support for the fuel, said Bob Burns, head of political science at South Dakota State University.

"I look for it to be a really permanent coalition," he said.

But corn-based ethanol could lead to conflict, if it forces up corn prices and then the prices of food and livestock feed. Many experts estimate corn could account for 15 billion gallons of ethanol per year, up from 5 billion gallons in 2006.

The Senate bill calls for an increase to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel - including corn and cellulosic ethanol - by 2022.

In the House, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin points out that the Democrats' "first 100 hours" agenda included changes to oil company royalties that create a $14 billion pool to be spent on research and development.

If the Senate goes along, part of that could go toward switching from corn to cellulose.

"If we continue to rely solely on corn for the production of ethanol, I think there would be a real issue that will come to a head," Burns said.

There also is growing support for wind power, he said.

Thune's new bill proposes extending the production tax credit, the most important government support for wind turbines. It would extend the credit for five years, a step up from previous extensions.

Thune acknowledged that there will be opposition from Senators looking to make the federal budget look less expensive.

"We're not doing near enough in my view," he said. "It will be a test of whether or not we're serious."

Thune said he also plans to introduce legislation that would help South Dakota get more wind energy onto a portion of the electric grid that is managed by the federal government.

 



Source: http://www.argusleader.com/...

MAY 7 2007
http://www.windaction.org/posts/8724-thune-a-pivotal-player-in-energy-debate
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