Ag secretary: Project will eventually create thousands of jobs
By TIM HEARDEN
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a trio of biofuels projects for Western farmers on July 26 as part of a $45 million effort to produce renewable energy.
Farmers in 17 counties in California and 18 in Washington are offered the chance to grow camelina -- an oilseed that is a rotation crop for wheat -- for conversion into a jet fuel substitute.
In addition, farmers in Oregon's Jefferson, Klamath, Umatilla, Union and Wasco counties and Washington's Whitman County can grow camelina for use as a biodiesel fuel.
And up to 7,000 acres of hybrid poplar trees in an area surrounding a biomass conversion facility in Boardman, Ore., will be used to create liquid biofuels, USDA Farm Service Agency spokeswoman Isabel Benemelis said.
"This project (involving camelina) is going to create jobs immediately, and our hope is that over time, several thousand jobs can be created in the three-state area," Vilsack told reporters in a conference call from Washington, D.C.
Vilsack said the projects will help American family businesses that have been "feeling the pinch from high energy and gasoline prices" and break the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
The three Western projects are among four Vilsack announced as part of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which was created in the 2008 Farm Bill. BCAP helps farmers and forest landowners with start-up costs of planting the non-food energy crops for conversion to heat, power, biofuels and other energy resources, according to a USDA news release.
The fourth project will use up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass in Oklahoma and Kansas for ethanol. Together, the government expects the projects to create more than 3,400 jobs in the biorefinery, agriculture and supporting sectors and provide the feedstocks to produce more than 2 million gallons of biofuels a year when full production levels are reached.
The contracts with growers would range from less than five years to 15 years, and participants would be reimbursed for 75 percent of the cost of establishing the crops and would receive annual maintenance payments.
Perhaps the most ambitious of the new projects is the one to make jet fuel. The project's unveiling comes on the first anniversary of an announcement by the USDA, Boeing Corp. and the Air Transportation Association of an effort to bring renewable fuels to the aviation marketplace, according to the release.
Contract farmers will provide materials for conversion plants in Bakersfield, Calif., and Tacoma, Wash. One potential customer could be the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, Calif., which is the Navy's largest master jet base, said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., a member of the House of Representatives' Agriculture Committee.
"As we continue to face high unemployment in the (Central) Valley, any efforts at job creation like this project are good news," Costa said in the conference call. "This is one of the energy tools in our energy tool box. We must use all of them to achieve independence with energy."
Biomass Crop Assistance Program: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap