Two bills are working their way through the Minnesota legislature that could serve as a model for state-level bioenergy initiatives.  Initially introduced in February in the Minnesota Senate and the House (H.F. 536 and S 517) by a bipartisan group of legislators, the bill would provide $5 million in production tax credits for cellulosic and advanced biofuels as well as biobased chemicals and biomass energy.  Initially, critics of the bill expressed concern that it would favor corn production and, therefore, harm Minnesota’s waterways.  But thanks to a broad-based coalition, the BioEconomy Coalition of Minnesota, sustainability measures have been amended to the bill itself.

The process and the amended bill provide an example of what kind of agreements can be brokered between corn growers and environmentalists – two groups that don’t always get along. The BioEconomy Coalition of Minnesota, organized by the Great Plains Institute, includes the biofuels and biochemical industry, as well as nonprofits and environmental groups, investment and law firms.  The goal of this group has been to find consensus on how to incentivize biofuels while protecting resource quality.  According to Steve Morse, Executive Director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a coalition of 70 environmental and conservation groups, “it is important that when cellulosic biofuels come to Minnesota, we do it right.”

The amended bill has more stringent environmental standards for any project that uses crop residues as a feedstock. The bill would require cellulosic ethanol producers to gradually increase perennial and cover crop feedstock use, up to 50 percent in the fifth year of operation. Incentives for perennial crop growth are also included. Planting cover crops such as winter rye help protect soil from erosion and improve soil quality and water holding.   Facilities that utilize non-crop residue feedstocks such as sugar, starch or wood, as well as those producing biobased chemical or thermal energy do not have to meet the stricter requirements.

Whitney Clark, Executive Director of Friends of the Mississippi River, commented on the importance of the bill, stating “this is an unusual coalition of folks who don’t always see eye to eye… But we’re all behind this because there are so many benefits.  This demonstrates that when we work together we can craft public policy that is good for our water, good for soil health and the rural economy and good for climate.”

According to Brendan Jordan, Vice President of the Great Plains Institute, none of “these changes delays the program in any way.”  The BioEconomy Coalition has estimated that a biobased industry in Minnesota could be worth $840 million dollars, providing thousands of new jobs.



For more information see: 

Minnesota bill aims to create cellulosic biomass incentives, Biomass Magazine 

Industry, water advocates come together on bioenergy bills, Midwest Energy News