Buis encourages rural America to tell its renewable energy story
By Carol Stender
Date Modified: 08/02/2012 2:07 PM
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Tom Buis has heard some pretty tall tales, but he says it doesn't compare to those he's heard in Washington, D.C. concerning renewable fuels.
At the Minnesota Farmers Union Focus on the Future retreat in Alexandria last week, the former National Farmers Union president gave examples of what he says is misinformation touted by some "deep pockets" who've invested $15 million towards a public relations "campaign of negativity."
Buis has followed the effort closely as CEO of Growth Energy, a group championing the next generation of biofuels.
He talked about the campaign's "food versus fuel" slogan which has fueled the debate on renewable fuels and renewable fuel development. Consumers don't understand that the corn used to make ethanol is No. 2 corn used in cattle feed.
"People wouldn't want to eat No. 2 yellow corn," he said. "Many people think it's popcorn or sweet corn that's used in fuel production. If you eat it, you better have a good set of grinding teeth."
While ethanol producers use the starch from the kernel, the remainder is used for livestock feed, Buis said.
Corn was blamed for pasta riots in Italy in 2008 and for high tortilla prices in Mexico. Buis pointed out that tortillas are made with white corn and, because of NAFTA agreements, the U.S. can only provide 2 percent of its white corn to Mexico.
The crop has also been blamed for the high price of beer and toothpaste.
"We can't allow critics to define us," he said. "You have to tell your story. We know renewable fuels are better for performance, it's cheaper and has environmental benefits."
It was a tough decision to leave his post at the Farmers Union, but through Growth Energy Buis saw a way to make sure rural American has economic opportunities through renewable energy production. It's also a way to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, he said.
Whether it's ethanol, wind, solar or biodiesel, it will all happen in the rural areas," he said.
Not only does renewable fuel development make a profit for farmers, it's also a way to revitalize rural communities, he said.
Renewable energy is all about adding value, he said.
Every time the country comes out of a recession, high fuel prices follow, Buis said.
"America needs to take control of its destiny," he said.
Growth Energy has filed for a waiver to increase the fuel blend from 10 percent ethanol to 15 percent. It sounds simple, he said, but it would be the biggest fuel change in 38 years.
As car companies look to increase mileage, they are building lighter vehicles and ethanol will offer the perfect fuel source.
NASCAR is on board with renewable fuels, he said. They've used E-15. Drivers report fewer engine problems and increased fuel mileage.
Brazil's gas stations offer ethanol. Flex fuel vehicles are common in the South American country, he said.
We need to market ethanol and "blender" pumps to consumers, he said. Instead of calling them blender pumps, flex pumps may be more consumer friendly.