From ethanol to wind to oil pipelines, the intersection of energy and our food system is an important topic.

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Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.

Nearly a decade of federal incentives encouraged companies to invest in cellulosic technology, which produces ethanol from crop waste such as stalks, cobs and leaves left on fields after harvest, and at least three plants were built in the Midwest since 2014.

But cellulosic ethanol is harder to make than grain ethanol because it uses the inedible and irregular parts of the plants, meaning it was tough for machines to chew up the wet, heavy material. And companies faced other challenges, such as a steady supply, fluctuating markets and stalled policy decisions.

Illinois Touted As Property Tax Model For Wind Farms

Dec 9, 2017
Darrell Hoemann / Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Illinois’ taxing model for wind energy companies is touted as one of the best in the country, bringing in $30.4 million in property taxes in 2016, according to economic experts.

Rural School Districts Shortchanged In Rush To Attract Wind Turbine Investors

Dec 8, 2017
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Mark Buck can see some of the 314 turbines in Kansas’ largest wind farm from his office window in Medicine Lodge, where he is superintendent of the Barber County North School District.

The nearly $1 billion Flat Ridge project, built in two phases and owned in part by British Petroleum, spans 70,000 acres near the Oklahoma border in south-central Kansas. But unlike most other Kansas businesses, Flat Ridge pays no property taxes on its generators to fund local schools and other services.

Protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard is a priority for officials from corn-producing states, as shown by this sign at an RFS rally in Iowa a few years ago.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Updated Nov. 30 with EPA decision — Midwestern U.S. senators’ lobbying campaign paid off Thursday for farmers who supply the renewable fuel industry.

file: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Even as wind energy production has grown in recent years to be a large part of the country’s energy portfolio, a chill around federal funding for renewable energy has researchers increasingly turning to industry partners to bring the next generation of innovation to the marketplace.


Nearly all of the ethanol blended into U.S. gasoline is made from corn.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

On a sweltering summer morning, Rob Mitchell surveys a plot of switchgrass at a research field near Lincoln, Nebraska. The grass is lush, green and nearly six feet tall.

“And it will get a couple feet taller than this,” says Mitchell, an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “So we’re putting on a lot of biomass right now.”

Trump Voices Support For Ethanol, But No Specifics

Feb 22, 2017

The Trump Administration is voicing its support for the ethanol industry, but without specifics it is hard to say what that means exactly for Midwest farmers.

In a letter (PDF) to industry leaders gathered at the National Ethanol Conference, President Donald Trump said renewable fuels “are essential to America’s energy strategy.”

The president wrote that he aims to reduce the regulatory burden on the renewable fuels industry, but did not detail specific plans.

A new U.S. government study claims ethanol is better for the environment than most scientists initially expected, boosting an industry that is a boon to Midwest farmers but challenged by many environmental groups and the oil industry.

In the 1930s, rural electric cooperatives brought electricity to the country’s most far-flung communities, transforming rural economies. In Western Colorado, one of these co-ops is again trying to spur economic development, partly by generating more of their electricity locally from renewable resources, like water in irrigation ditches and the sun.

It was clear Thursday at a public hearing on ethanol policy, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tries to thread a very tricky needle when it establishes renewable fuel plans.

The EPA in May proposed modest increases in the amount of renewable fuels it will require oil refiners to blend into the U.S. gasoline and diesel supply next year – a total of 18.8 billion gallons, up from 18.11 billion gallons this year.