Monday, February 27, 2006

Questions for the Candidates - Al Weed's Response

Thank you, Lisa, for your very constructive questions. As to switchgrass, they go to the heart of the challenge a non-incumbent has in fleshing out a legislative strategy that is something more than just signing on to an existing bill. It takes a while for an outsider to pin-point the pressure points in Congress. We are in contact with two or three organizations in DC who are helping us to identify the answers to your questions. We have been working on this for some time and are planning a press-event here in Danville for 6 March and expect to have a fleshed out strategy. Let me, though, answer those components now that I can.

  1. Legislative strategy - forthcoming
  2. Time line: Our concept is that a pilot plant could be built (or existing steam/power facilities -- In Danville there is the Bramsby plant owned by the city)and switchgrass could be purchased right away. There are over 5000 acres planted in Virginia today, but not all concentrated in Southside. That means the startup costs would include transportation subsidies that would decline as local plantings come on-line. This initial plant would produce steam and power, generating immediate cash flow. As farmers respond to the market the output of the pilot plant could be increased, and bio-mass for co-firing with coal could become an additional product. As output develops the supply issue will be solved and bio-fuel technology will be brought on line to convert the switchgrass to its highest market value product -- bio-diesel, bunker oil, ethanol, pellets for co-firing.
  3. The first steps could begin as soon as a steady source of funding was available. There is scope in the 2005 Energy Bill to provide such funds, the Tobacco Commission is interested and the State, if it commits to buying fuel for co-firing, could also be a source. The very first step would be to fund an engineering study, but this is something for which DOE grant funding has been requested by a group in Charlottesville that I am working with via Public Policy Virginia.

Thank you, Al, for such a timely response. I look forward to hearing more of your plans after the March 6 event.


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