USDA hopes farmers can help lower gas prices

April 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Farmers responsible for the production of ethanol, a grain alcohol, could be the answer to reduce not only the price of fuel, but also the United States’ dependency on foreign oil, said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. He has been contacting newspapers in North Carolina to discuss the administration’s energy policy.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledged that there is no way to bring fuel prices down overnight, but the United States has produced more oil in the past eight years than ever before. Consequently, Americans are now consuming less than 50 percent imported oil. Along with the reduction in foreign oil consumption, the number of energy-efficient vehicles has increased as well as the miles per gallon expectation. In 2011, the U.S. reclaimed the position as the world’s leading investor in clean energy, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. is producing record amounts of biofuel, and because of this increase, gas prices are 80 cents to $1.30 less than what they would be otherwise, Vilsack said. The Department of Agriculture knows lowering the price begins with a strong supply of ethanol. As a result, the USDA assists farmers in becoming more energy efficient with Rural Energy for American Program.

This program provides grants and guaranteed loans for farmers who demonstrate financial need to install renewable energy sources. These projects include retrofitting lighting or insulation and purchasing or replacing equipment with more energy-efficient units. The projects must produce energy from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro power and hydrogen-based sources and can produce any form of energy including heat, electricity or fuel.

“So far this program has saved three million kilowatts of energy, which is enough to power 26,000 homes,” Vilsack said.

Even with strides forward, Vilsack knows North Carolina needs to progress further. He, along with President Obama, would like to implement the E15 program, approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. This program allows manufacturers to increase the amount of ethanol per gallon up to 15 percent. As a result of the ethanol percentage per gallon, Vilsack stated this would lower gas prices by 5 to 15 cents per gallon.

In 2009, Growth Energy, a coalition of ethanol supporters, requested an increase in the ethanol allowed per gallon from 10 percent to 15 percent. The EPA partially granted the waiver request in October 2010, based upon data submitted to prove that the change would not harm vehicle emissions and fuel systems materials. This request only pertained to car models 2007 or newer to fill their tank with a 15 percent blended ethanol gasoline. After further tests in 2011, vehicles 2001 or newer were included in this group. If an vehicle older than 2001 was filled with E15 gasoline, it could cause damage.

When questions surfaced as to how gas stations would guarantee the correct fueling, the EPA provided a Misfueling Mitigation Plan in March that drew out instructions on labeling pumps to ensure that only approved vehicles used E15.

With gas prices expected to rise up to $4 in May, said Cathey Hein, public relations manager for AAA, consumers will be looking for an alternative to help lower the price. In a press release Monday, AAA provided motorists tips to help increase an automobile’s miles per gallon, such as making sure all tires are inflated and avoiding extra weight. Hopes for prices to decrease do not look favourable as Hein expects prices to stay between $3 and $3.50 even with alternative energy solutions in place. She asks that the legislative administration step forward.

“We need a national energy policy in place to address the issue. We need to look at how we consume energy as a whole and ask legislatures to determine how we must move forward,” Hein said.

Rebekah Cansler McGee can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 228, or at

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