The Future of Ethanol Right Here in Yolo County
By Dave Rosenberg, Yolo County 4th District Supervisor
Last summer in my capacity as Chairman of the Yolo County Economic Development Council (EDC), I established a special "Ethanol Task Force" chaired by Larry Clement and co-chaired by Casey Stone, and charged that task force with the preparation of a report analyzing the feasibility, pros-and-cons, of an ethanol industry here in Yolo County. The task force undertook a detailed study and its report was submitted to the EDC. The EDC has accepted the report as its own, and has forwarded it to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.
The bottom line is that Yolo County provides a viable location for the development of an ethanol industry.
What exactly is ethanol? Ethanol is an agriculture-based (renewable) fuel primarily produced from corn in the Midwest of the United States. Other agricultural products can be used to produce ethanol including grains, cheese whey, food and beverage wastes. It is possible to also produce ethanol from biomass including agricultural residues, urban wood and green waste, and forest residues and thinnings. Ethanol is the replace oxygenate for MTBE as required under the Federal Clean Air Act.
Will ethanol be in California's future? Current US ethanol production is over 2 billion gallons per year. It is expected to increase by 400 million to 600 million gallons by the end of next year. Ethanol is also produced overseas, primarily in Brazil, the Caribbean and in Europe. California, on the other hand, produces only about 10 million gallons of ethanol at two very small plants in Southern California. It is estimated that total California demand for ethanol will be in the 600 million to 900 million gallons per year range, once MTBE is phased out as an oxygenate in California fuel. Currently, MTBE must be phased out by December 31 of 2002.
Why ethanol? Ethanol provides many environmental benefits. Currently, it is the only renewable liquid transport fuel available. This alone provides an effective strategy to address global climate changes as well as depletion of fossil fuels. Ethanol also improves air quality - carbon monoxide and ozone are reduced. Ethanol does not harm water supplies. Finally, ethanol provides a significant waste management strategy as ethanol can be produced from agricultural and forestry residues.
There are economic benefits flowing from an ethanol production facility. First and foremost, it provides yet another market for agricultural products. Farmers will appreciate the market diversification. It also adds value to the processing of agricultural material. For example, corn residue can not only produce ethanol, but it can also produce a valuable animal feed by-product as well as a carbon dioxide by-product. Finally, ethanol provides not only rural economic development, but jobs in agriculture, transportation and plant operation.
While Midwest and world supplies of ethanol would be sufficient to supply California beginning in 2003, the costs of transportation may drive the price of foreign ethanol sky high. There is a substantial opportunity to develop an ethanol industry right here in California. Yet, at the present time, only a handful of jurisdictions in California are even looking at the possibility of developing ethanol plants in California.
Yolo County is one of those jurisdictions. The report has found that an ethanol facility producing 30 million annual gallons is quite feasible in Yolo County. Several potential sites were identified. Other sites also exist. The agricultural products are here in Yolo County and the region, the storage and transportation infrastructure is already in place. Governments at all levels should open the doors and cut the red tape to develop an ethanol industry here in Yolo County. But ultimately, it will require the private sector to step up to the plate and actually develop an operating ethanol production plant in Yolo County.