Monday, June 02, 2008

Maria Energia Interview: Undersecretary of Rural Development Thomas Dorr

Thomas Dorr was appointed by President Bush and became the Undersecretary for Rural Development in 2005. Just before he went on stage at the WINDPOWER opening session, the Undersecretary was generous enough to answer a few of my questions backstage amid some packing trunks.

Maria Energia: How can wind power help revitalize rural

Undersecretary: Wind is an environmental and very cost-effective energy resource that’s located in rural areas. This is a smart opportunity for rural investment that creates high value jobs, sustaining industries and overall revitalizes rural economies.

The global energy [needs] demand energy and strong economies. Rural areas are an obvious solution.

Maria Energia: What do you think about the biofuels controversy? Are you optimistic?

Undersecretary: We are quite cognizant that there are extraordinary price pressures on fuel and energy. But we don’t believe they’re the cause of the cost increase in food. Public and private sector research shows that the amount of grain used for biofuels is having an impact of 3-10 percent on food's price increase. In other words, it’s a part of the problem but certainly not the whole problem.

This campaign to smear biofuels is disingenuous. We’re trying to be forthright and get out the real facts and figures. We are certainly going to have price issues with biofuels and it’s going to be disruptive.

We’ve gone through this before, remember. In the 1970s there was increase in the demand for grain in the foreign markets. The price of corn and soybeans skyrocketed. We imposed price controls and freezes and that precipitated the debacle in energy prices.

We’re going to have to deal with short term stress and strain. But long term, we have to have alternative energy sources to displace our dependency on fossil fuels. Globally, the world can produce 85 million barrels of oil a day – but the world demand is 87 million barrels of oil. At this point, it would be foolish to back off finding alternative fuels.

Maria Energia: Lots of people are excited about the prospect of fuel from algae. Do you think it’s simple enough to be cost-effective on a small scale?

Undersecretary: Algae is clearly going to be a resource. Currently it’s being grown in massive areas of land or even in vats. I think that the technology is still a ways down the road, but given the price of crude oil and the entrepreneurial innovation we’re seeing, I do think it’s going to be an important part of our energy mix.

Maria Energia: What’s your favorite renewable energy?

Undersecretary: All of them, as long rural American can have equity in the process and reap the benefits!

Photo credit: USDA

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