June 21, 2008

Georgia's Energy Innovation Center: An interview with Director Jill Stuckey

In April, 2008, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue established six "innovation centers" to focus executive activity in industries perceived to be of key importance to the future of the state. One of these is the Energy Innovation Center (EIC). The primary goal of the EIC will be to increase production and use of renewable energy and biofuels in Georgia by utilizing natural resources, locally grown feedstocks, agricultural and industrial byproducts, solar energy, wind power and other renewable energy alternatives.

“The state of Georgia is quickly becoming a recognized leader in alternative energy and fuel,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “Our goal is to develop a bioenergy industry that provides substantial economic benefit to Georgia and produces 15 percent of the state’s transportation fuels by 2020 from locally produced biofuels.”

At this past week's huge BIO International convention in San Diego, I had the privilege of shaking hands with Governor Perdue and the pleasure of interviewing his Director of the Energy Innovation Center, the dynamic and engaging Jill Stuckey.
“The governor wants a complete circle when it comes to energy development and production in Georgia,” said Stuckey. “Our goal is to grow the feedstocks, produce the fuel, and use our own energy. Designating energy as a focus of one of the Centers of Innovation allows us to harness the power of our resources under one roof.”

Jill is not a newcomer to energy innovation. Prior to this role she was in charge of Alternative Energy in the state.
"When Rita and Katrina hit I was one of the ones who had to try to find fuels when there weren't any coming in through the pipelines from the Gulf. In metro Atlanta, that's where our fuel comes from.

"People don't realize that two thirds of our tank capacity in the world is in our gasoline tanks in our vehicles. Only one third is in our gasoline terminals, gas stations and their tanks. When there is a scare and everyone runs to the gasoline stations, we run out. We want to see fuel developed within our state to increase our self-reliance during crises - whatever they are."

"What the Governor would like to see is that we raise the feedstocks, we produce the fuels there, and we use it there. We would love to see that, when we drive to the pumps, the fuel is coming from 75 miles away from people we know rather than 5,000 miles away from folks that might not like us very well. Not to mention the economic development difference of having a factory right within our community instead of sending it to a foreign country."

I asked Jill several questions about Georgia's longterm commitment to biofuels and its various feedstocks for biomass conversion.

What is Georgia's attitude toward corn ethanol?
"If it wasn't for corn ethanol, gasoline prices could well be 20% higher than they are today. Lots of people are growing corn now. We have doubled our corn acreage in the state of Georgia since a year or so ago. We have a 100 million gallon ethanol facility that will be starting up this Fall. "

What about cellulosic ethanol from wood as a feedstock?
"We have 12 million acres of plantation forests in the state of Georgia. That's our crop. We know how to manage it, we know how to use it. Just about all the industry that I have spoken to is very anxious to look at the next generation utilizing pine for something other than paper - but still embracing that industry."

Back in November, the Governor joined the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary, the Under Secretary of Agriculture and renowned investor, Vinod Khosla for the groundbreaking of the Range Fuels facility in Soperton, GA. What is the commitment of Georgia's government to cellulosic ethanol from woody biomass?
"The Governor came in and was very excited about the groundbreaking and the opportunity for Georgia and the potential for this company. He is very committed to this industry.

"The Range Fuels facility was able to acquire their environmental permit within 76 days. He had an executive order stating that we would turn it in 90 days once we had a completed application and we beat that. He has also passed legislation that gave them tax-free on all their bricks and mortar materials. A lot of the machinery was already tax-exempt but he passed that for all alternative fuels companies. He is very committed to that and I don't see any of that is going to change. I wouldn't be surprised to see more legislation passed to help these companies."

What about succeeding Georgia administrations? Can investors and timberland owners be confident that policies set today will last for the next generation?
"All the upcoming candidates for Governor are interested in alternative fuels and alternative energy as well as the existing pulpwood industry. That industry has a lot of potential with a big headstart if they were to get involved with these projects. I have seen considerable interest in that industry."

What do you think about hybrid trees and energy crops?
"People talk a lot about switchgrass. The numbers I've heard are $80-$100 per ton for that. Wood is less than half of that. We have 12 million acres of plantation pines sitting in Georgia, ready today. We are doing some work with the polonia tree because it grows three times faster than a pine tree. It doesn't have the saps that are inhibitors for the ethanol process.

"We are always looking toward the next generation working with people like Arbogen. We are trying to find the most tons per acre the fastest we can grow. The pines are so great - they don't need a lot of water, you don't have to cultivate them like you do with most other crops. If we don't want to harvest them today we can harvest them next month. It's such a no-brainer."

In the face of mainstream media confusion and disinformation moving forward requires stakeholder engagement and public outreach to make sure that all sectors of Georgia are ready for the changes ahead. How is that being handled?
"That's one thing the Herty Foundation is trying to do - to gather all the powers to be in Georgia and the landowners. They are trying to explain what they see the future is going to be - selling their wood and how to grow it, and explaining that they may not be selling by green ton but by BTU or moisture content - and try to get them to think about how the future is going to be for wood-to-energy as well as wood-to-paper."

The controversial U.S. Senate staff redrafting of the definition of qualifying biomass feedstock in the 2007 EISA (Energy Independence and Security Act) could be interpreted to exclude Georgia woody biomass. What can Georgia's political leaders do to insure that federal law does not infringe on state's management over their own resources?
"From the state's standpoint we have been very involved in that issue from our state forestry commission as well as we are working with our landowners because they are very concerned about that issue. We are very vocal in Washington working with our elected officials in Washington to help any way we can."

"We need to hurry up and try to get this figured out."

technorati <, , ,

No comments: