Patrick pitches biodiesel blend
By Matt Murphy, Eagle Boston Bureau
Tuesday, November 06
BOSTON — Massachusetts could vault from a straggler to a leader in cleaner energy production and consumption, thanks to new legislation filed yesterday by Gov. Deval L. Patrick and top lawmakers that also could prove a boon for the Berkshires.
The state would become the first in the nation to require a blend of biofuels in all home heating oil, while joining dozens of others in setting minimum biofuel standards for diesel fuel.
The new market for biofuel in the Bay State could translate to strong business for Berkshire Biodiesel, one of three new biodiesel refineries planned for the state in Pittsfield.
"It increases the market for Berkshire Biodiesel, making it more attractive and more economical, and sends a powerful signal in Massachusetts that we want to be a leader," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield.
Massachusetts also would exempt a new form of ethanol called cellulosic ethanol from the state gas tax, the first attempt by government to create a market and encourage the production of this alternative fuel.
"This little vial of cellulosic ethanol is the future of transportation fuel in the commonwealth," Patrick said yesterday, holding a small test tube of the bio-based fuel produced at the University of Massachusetts. "We need this in our gas pumps, our gas tanks and in our economy."
Patrick announced the legislation, filed yesterday, at the Statehouse with House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, Senate President Therese Murray, U.S. Rep. William Delahunt and other state and industry leaders, including Lee Harrison of Berkshire Biodiesel.
Harrison praised the governor and other politicians for their leadership on the issue of clean, greener energy.
The Pittsfield plant, slated to open for production by late 2008, will produce about 50 million gallons of soy-based biodiesel annually, making it the largest producer in the state.
The bill would require a 2 percent biofuel blend by 2010, increasing to 5 percent by 2013. Standard gasoline sold in Massachusetts currently contains a 10 percent blend of ethanol.
Biodiesel is currently 17 cents cheaper, on average, than straight diesel fuel, while bioheat blends cost about 2.5 cents more than regular home heating oil.
Delahunt adamantly rejected the idea that blending biofuels into diesel and heating oil will drive up the cost, arguing that crude oil prices are rising at a much faster rate.
Patrick and Delahunt both said that they believe the biofuel blends ultimately will be cheaper for consumers and will help reduce the dependence on foreign oil.
The legislation also would curb carbon dioxide emissions by about 2.7 percent, or 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2014, according to the Patrick administration.
"It's like changing all the light bulbs. Every bit has a small impact. I would hope that we could become more aggressive, but I think it's a good starting point," said Sen. Pamela Resor, D-Acton, vice chairwoman of the special committee on global warming.
Although modest in its proportion, Patrick and others said the legislation will be an important first step to encourage alternative energy production and use, while creating a market for cellulosic ethanol.
Since taking office, Patrick also has joined a multistate effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has signed an executive order mandating higher energy efficiency standards in state-owned buildings.
"Two percent will have almost no impact on the cost, but what it does is provide a huge spark for the industry," said Brooke Coleman, president of the New Fuels Alliance and the author of the report used to draft the legislation.
There are currently three biofuel refineries in the planning stages — in Pittsfield, Greenfield and Quincy. A number of other companies, as well as the University of Massachusetts, are doing research on cellulosic ethanol.
Patrick said the tax incentive could create up to 3,000 new jobs in research, development and farming, and pump $320 million into the economy as the fuel is brought to market, which could take up to three years.
Standard ethanol is produced mainly from corn in the United States in a process that requires large amounts of energy.
Cellulosic ethanol, however, can be produced from a variety of biomaterials, including cornhusks and -stalks, switchgrass, soy, wood chips, paper waste and cranberry bog by-products.
"This legislation will help the commonwealth by reducing our dependency on foreign oil and, instead, thanks to Berkshire Biodiesel, invest that money back into our own community," said state Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo, D-Pittsfield.
The legislation also would create a biofuels task force charged with studying and making recommendations on how to further promote the growth and development of the biofuels industry in Massachusetts.