Biodiesel bills may mount a comeback

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2002


Friday, February 01, 2002

Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, plans to push bills that intend to increase the use of biodiesel fuel oil made of soybeans. If realized, the state would mandate diesel motor fuel suppliers to blend 2 to 5 percent of biodiesel and provide incentive grants to diesel fuel-based power generation operators.

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Biodiesel is a nontoxic, biodegradable fuel. Unlike ethanol, the corn-based gasoline substitute, it can be combusted by a conventional engines and generators.

The motor fuel bill was introduced to the House last year by Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake. Dorman was a co-author of the bill.

The original bill proposed a mandatory 2 percent blend starting in July 2002 and 5 percent starting in July 2006.

During committee discussions, the bill was amended, and the mandatory use of blended fuel was limited only to state-owned vehicles. The amended bill also included a feasibility study for expanding the biodiesel consumption. The bill was finally tabled.

Dorman wants to revive the original mandate to apply to the use to all vehicles.

He thinks a projected fuel cost increase – estimated at one or two cents per gallon – was the major obstacle for realizing the bill. &uot;But the situation has changed,&uot; Dorman emphasized.

&uot;Along with the environmental needs, the Sept. 11 attack has made it clear the importance of energy independence. We should not depend on a foreign oil supply,&uot; Dorman said.

The incentive bill for power generation provides a subsidy to power generation operators who use a biodiesel blend of 20 percent or more. The Conservation Improvement Program, funded from a sales tax for energy consumption, would be appropriated to the incentive subsidy.

According to chief author Dan McElroy, R-Burnsville, a 20 percent blend can deliver more BTUs per gallon than diesel fuel.

The propagation of biodiesel will help farmers diversify their crop marketing.

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the soybean is the number-one agricultural crop in Minnesota, generating $1.5 billion in cash receipts or 18 percent of total farm income. But the market price has been fluctuating widely: The average price per bushel was $5.91 in 1980, $7.70 in ’83 and $4.55 in ’99.

The department estimates the 5 percent mandate would utilize about 18.4 million bushels, or 7 percent of Minnesota’s annual soybean yield, and increase the state’s soybean-processing capacity by 16 percent. Accordingly, the implementation would create 2,439 new jobs and a $460 million positive economic impact on the state economy.

&uot;Like ethanol-blended gas, the biodiesel blend will improve our air quality. And it will bring tremendous economic gains not only to the soybean growers but also the whole economy, particularly to rural Minnesota,&uot; Dorman said.