Corn-based ethanol may be a temporary fix — Bredesen
By: By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Ethanol as a homeland alternative to expensive fossil fuels — crude oil has soared to $100 a barrel — is a popular notion. But it may be just a temporary fix, according to Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Ethanol plants such as the one under construction near Obion are “corn-based,” Bredesen told print and broadcast reporters Wednesday during a press conference via phone.
The ethanol issue was one of three questions submitted by The Messenger and addressed by Bredesen, who dismisses corn-based ethanol, as just “a way to make ethanol today.”
“Corn has gone from what, $2 and some change to $5 a bushel the last two years? Personally, I do not think that’s a sustainable way to make ethanol,” he said.
“Cellulosic ethanol — using things like switch grass, pulp wood or any of the other types of leafy materials, is the way to go.”
The governor confirmed he placed $62 million in last year’s budget for “gas from grass” research purposes at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and the U.S. Department of Energy complex at Oak Ridge.
“Alternative fuels has got to be an area that has huge impact for the future,” Bredesen said. “I’m trying to help position UT and Oak Ridge to be in a leadership position to do that.”
The $62 million was allocated not only to fund basic research but also to have UT-K and Oak Ridge work with a private contractor to build a pilot plant to test engineering and other issues associated with the ambitious “gas to grass” concept.
“With the combination of the expertise we have at Oak Ridge and UT, and the agricultural base we have, particularly in West Tennessee, that’s suitable for growing these kinds of materials, we are very well positioned to be a leader or the leader in alternative fuel production in this country,” Bredesen said. “I believe it has economic ramifications everywhere, from the farmers in our state to the business community.
“We are just trying to put an ante on the table here and try and help get it started, just like other states are doing.
“As I told the legislature when I talked about it a little jokingly, we have making alcohol out of corn down to an art. We’ve been doing it for 5,000 years. But we haven’t learned how to make it out of leaves. But we’re working on it.”
Other issues discussed by Bredesen include:
• Construction and renovation of the executive residence, or governor’s mansion, at Oak Hill. A legislator has termed it “a $70 million hole underneath the governor’s mansion.”
Bredesen characterizes the community uproar as “a tempest in a teapot.”
“It is not a $70 million hole anywhere. It is my wife and she will get no benefit out of this whatever. We will never live here long enough to use it,” he said. “We are trying to do what people have asked us repeatedly to do, Republicans and Democrats, which is, ‘Let’s get this thing done right so it won’t need to be dealt with 50 years from now.’ She brought in architects, who are trying to give her a good way of not making this thing overwhelming in the neighborhood, and trying to maintain the residential character of the neighborhood. They came up with the idea of doing it underground. Once it’s done, you’ll hardly know it’s there. It’s what, for example, Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, did to try to keep the rural nature of that home.
“Yes, there are some neighbors upset, which are easily dealt with. It’s a grab for (publicity), a good way to rub a little dirt on my cheeks. But I believe this thing will be dealt with. When it’s done, (people) will say, ‘It’s the right thing to do and I’m glad you did it.’”
• Purchase of 127,000 acres of timberland in East Tennessee.
“We are going to use it extensively,” Bredesen said. “It is land which has been in the hands of timber companies a long time. It was in the process of being sold off. It was going to be broken up into small units. What we have done is acquire the land for the state.”
Timber cutting will still be allowed but on the state’s stringent terms, he added.
“It makes it sustainable, helps the local economies,” he said. “We’re going to open it up as no longer private land, but open to hunters and fishermen, open to people who want to hike and do things on the land, basically preserving the land for future generations.”
Published in The Messenger 1.11.08