Washington State Magazine

Spring 2009

Spring 2009


In This Issue...


What Is Art For? :: Art, says independent scholar Ellen Dissanayake '57, is "making special." It is an act that gives us a sense of belonging and meaning. It is passed from mother to child. Its origins lie deep in our evolutionary past. It makes us human. by Tim Steury

The Love Letters :: In 1907, Othello had no high school, so Xerpha Mae McCulloch '30 traveled 50 miles to Ritzville to finish school. There she met, and fell in love with, Edward Gaines, a few years her senior. The recent gift to Washington State University of her steamer trunk reveals the life of a woman whose story is not only threaded through the University's, but also through the story of agriculture in Washington State. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Photos and letters from Xerpha's trunk }

You Must Remember This :: Having reached a certain age, our correspondent sets out to learn the latest from Washington State University researchers about memory. She learns that memory comes in different forms, that the human brain is made for problem-solving, and that the key to much of brain health is the "dendritic arbor." And then she sets out to create an action plan. by Cherie Winner

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEStory: Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe's work to help people with memory loss }


Privacy and the Words of the Dead :: Do we violate the privacy of the dead when we read what they wrote for themselves? Maybe it depends on our purposes. by Will Hamlin

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Annotated pages from early English editions of Montaigne's Essays. }




:: SPORTS: Coaching with heart

:: GREEN PAGES: Building green

:: A gift toward fuel research

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: Yucatecan lentil soup recipe }


Cover photo: Bryan Hall clock tower reflected in the Abelson-Heald skybridge windows on the Pullman campus. By Zach Mazur.

Green Pages

A long-term biofuels strategy for Washington

by | © Washington State University

In 2007, the Washington State Legislature passed legislation “relating to providing for the means to encourage the use of cleaner energy.” The final of four chapters of the renewable energy act directed Washington State University to explore the development of biofuels in Washington. The final result, Biofuel Economics and Policy for Washington State, released in late 2008, does not quite match what some state policy makers had expected, notes lead author Jon Yoder, a natural resource economist at WSU.

In short, the report recommends that Washington not try to force itself into the current biofuel market. With what are considered “first-generation” biofuels, such as ethanol, the state simply cannot compete with midwestern corn-growing states. As much as anything, this is due to Washington’s agricultural strengths.

“The interesting thing about Washington,” says Yoder, “is it’s very good at growing high-value agricultural crops.” In fact, it does have a high-value ethanol product, wine grapes. As ridiculous as turning cabernet grapes into biofuel sounds, it reflects a broader reality, says Yoder. In the current market, energy crops in Washington would simply be losers.

If there’s one important take-home message of the report, it’s that it’s important not to think about biofuels in isolation, a prevailing problem in earlier analysis and policy, says Yoder. “I think we’ve done something with this report that hasn’t been done yet, anywhere,” he says. “It puts a broad perspective on biofuel policy from the ground up.”

Nothing in the report, which involved the analysis of 15 authors and economists, is new, says Yoder. But the combination is.
The economists were asked by the legislature to do three basic things. First was to assess the availability of biofuel feedstock in the state. Second was to develop recommendations for market incentives. Finally, they were to provide recommendations for research and development.

The legislature had three fundamental goals: promote state production of biofuels, reduce petroleum dependence, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In response, says Yoder, the group recommended the following: Policy should revolve around a carbon-based fuel tax (on carbon emission, not fuel volume), based on life-cycle carbon emissions of fuel. Also, incentives should be provided that promote low carbon renewable fuels, something that is missing today in policy.

The result, say the economists, is we now have corn-based ethanol that provides little benefit in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
“What we concluded,” says Yoder, is that “in order to meet the goals laid out in the legislation, a focus on greenhouse emissions reduction would be the umbrella under which we could approach all of the goals laid out in the legislation.

“Until now, including now, biofuel policy has been developed in a great deal of isolation from a lot of other policies. It’s time to start integrating biofuels policy into broader climate and energy policies.”

The report makes specific recommendations that run counter to prevailing policy sentiment including a recommendation against straight cap and trade in carbon.

The WSU report also recommends that the state instead institute a carbon-based tax on fuels. Revenues could be used in several ways. First, to provide tax credits. Revenues would also be used to provide research and development funds for promising technologies for developing the next generation of biofuels, as well as geographically appropriate technologies.

“The reason why it’s important to tax first and use revenues,” says Yoder, “...suppose we take revenues from the general fund to offset tax credits for subsidies. What you do is make blended fuel cheaper and increase consumption, and petroleum dependence remains the same.”

Even though Yoder believes such an approach could be revenue neutral, in the short run, he admits, it would be a tough call.

The economists acknowledge that the state will probably adopt a cap and trade policy in spite of their recommendations. In deference to this momentum, they suggest the state should be aggressive toward auctioning the initial credits, instead of just giving them away.

Pending legislation is calling for 10 percent of credits to be auctioned. “In my book, that’s not enough,” says Yoder.

Perhaps more significant is the report’s recommendation that the state plan for the long run, investing in research, development, and infrastructure, with particular attention paid to rail infrastructure for transporting the feedstock.

Biofuel Economics and Policy for Washington State will be published as an agricultural research center bulletin. Meanwhile, you can read the executive summary at: www.ses.wsu.edu/research/EnergyEcon.htm.

Categories: Public affairs, Engineering | Tags: Biofuels

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