On Thursday the National Farmers Union and Heinrich Boll Foundation presented a joint briefing to Senate staff on renewable energy. During the briefing renewable energy and some of the issues that are at play in that area were discussed. In particular U.S. policies were compared and contrasted with German policies.
Last fall NFU President Roger Johnson spent a week in Germany looking at their policies concerning renewable energy and touring several facilities.
"The policies that they have established in Germany have been extraordinarily effective and they have seen dramatic growth in renewable energy in the last 15 years," Johnson said. "I actually toured what are called energy farms; these are farms that exist solely for the purpose of producing renewable energy."
One of the farms Johnson toured was receiving all the hog manure from neighboring farms, using digesters to produce methane gas and powering a generator with the methane that fed directly into the power grid. The farmer also captured the waste heat from the generator and used it as space heating for the neighborhood village, as well as having a wind tower.
"That's what he did, he just harvested energy," Johnson said. "The reason that folks like him can exist and thrive economically is because Germany adopted a couple of policies that are very different than ours. For one they have made it possible for farmers, for small energy producers to have guaranteed access to the grid. So you producer the electricity, you're guaranteed that it is going to get on the grid in a reasonable amount of time. That is a huge challenge in this country, it is extraordinarily complicated, and very, very time consuming to get your power distributed on the grid."
The other policy that they have done is putting in place what they call the CLEAN Act, a feed in tariff, which basically means that whoever puts the power on the grid not only has guaranteed access but they have a long term contract that the grid operator is required to enter into with the producer.
"They are given a 20-year contract with a fixed rate of return and that contract these farmers simply take to the bank and the bank funds it, their project is funded," Johnson said. "So guaranteed access to the grid, a 20-year contract with a reasonable rate of return and all the capital cost repaid and you have seen an explosion of renewable energy development in Germany."
According to Johnson, Germany has more solar power than the U.S. yet they only have about as much sun as Alaska. The wind blows a lot less there than in the U.S. but on a proportional basis they have far more wind energy. Johnson says they also have something like 10 times as many methane digesters as there are in all of the United States.
"They've seen remarkable progress and it has come as a result of some of the policies they've adopted," Johnson said. "There is some resistance in this country to renewable projects because most of them are owned by large entities located out of state, so they are absentee-owned and whatever profits are made go out of the state. What Germany has done is focus much more on community renewable energy projects so that the ownership stays local and everyone has an investment in it."
They also addressed the Renewable Energy Tour that the two organizations held recently where they heard from public decision makers, stakeholders and farmers and shared some of the experiences that Germany has had. Johnson says the briefing was very well received on Capitol Hill."This was a good opportunity to educate folks," Johnson said. "So hopefully when it comes time to write the Farm Bill, which nobody knows right now when that will be, more of the members will be better educated about some of the policy options that we ought to be thinking about in this country if we are serious about developing renewable energy."