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Ag Secretary announces California-based renewable energy project

by Chris Hinyub, published

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced several biofuel projects for Pacific states that he says will eventually create thousands of jobs and break the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Farmers in 17 California counties and 18 in Washington state will be given the chance to grow camelina – an oilseed usually planted as a rotation crop for wheat – for conversion into a jet fuel substitute. Oregon farmers in 5 counties and Washington's Whitman County will be able to grow camelina for use as a biodiesel fuel.


A product of the 2008 Farm Bill, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) is a $45 million effort to produce renewable energy through non-food energy crops. According to a USDA news release, this energy will be converted to heat, power, biofuels and other energy resources.


     "This (camelina) project 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.


Also on the BCAP agenda is a plan to produce liquid biofuels from up to 7,000 acres of hybrid poplar trees surrounding a biomass conversion facility in Boardman, Oregon. The three Western projects will be joined by a fourth one in Oklahoma and Kansas that will produce ethanol from up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass.


BCAP aids participating farmers and landowners by reimbursing them 75 percent of start-up costs for planting the needed crops and annual maintenance payments. Growers would have to sign contracts that range from less than five years to 15 years.  Government expectations for the projects are substantial: the creation of more than 3,400 jobs in the biofuels and agricultural sector as well as enough biomass to produce more than two million gallons of biofuel each year.


According to the release, the project's unveiling coincides with the first anniversary of an announcement by the USDA, Boeing Corporation and the Air Transportation Association to bring renewable fuels to the aviation marketplace. The camelina-based jet fuel will be refined at conversion plants in Bakersfield, Ca. and Tacoma, Wash.


     "As we continue to face high unemployment in the (Central) Valley, any efforts at job creation like this project are good news," said Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) 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."


Costa, a member of the House of Representatives' Agriculture Committee said that a potential costumer could be the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, California – the Navy's largest master jet base.

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