WisBusiness: Doyle Wants State to Lead on Biofuels

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – Gov. Jim Doyle told forest products and agricultural leaders on Thursday that he wants Wisconsin to be a national leader for bio-based industries that turn crops, tree waste and even manure into fuel.

The so-called Executive Leadership Summit on Bio-based Industry followed last week’s announcement by the governor of a new Consortium on Bio-Based Industry to promote alternative fuels.

Heavyweights in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, which was held in the Governor’s Conference Room in the Capitol, included numerous officials from Stora Enso and Packaging Corp. of America.

With 15 million acres in farms and another 15 million acres of forests, the Badger State is in a “unique position,” Doyle said to a group that included officials from the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal and state agencies.

“We do not have oil fields in Wisconsin, but we do have other assets that could make us a center of fuel production,” he said.

“We’re the number one paper-producing state, we have more than 220 dairy processing plants and near 100 fruit and vegetable processing plants,” he said.

“But what really sets us apart is our world-class University of Wisconsin system,” said Doyle, who called the drive to produce bio-based energy a bipartisan effort.

“We just have to seize the potential and move forward,” he said. “I want us to be the number one state for bio-based fuel research and production.

“It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but I would love to see our farms become 100 percent self-sustaining. And there are huge opportunities in the forest industry because we are now using just 30 percent of trees we process.”

Rep. Don Friske, R-Tomahawk, who heads the state Assembly’s forestry committee, said he and Doyle are normally political “opposites.”

But Friske lauded Doyle for his cooperation and leadership on the bio-fuels issue.

“Wisconsin has the highest concentration of paper mills in the country,” said Friske, a fourth-generation logger. He said Wisconsin’s forest products industry is worth $28 billion, employs 65,000 people and uses 10 percent of the state’s energy.

“We are the ideal place to build a pilot plant for forest-based bio research,” added Friske, who noted that the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee included $4 million in its budget for forest-based bioresearch.

Doyle, whose budget includes $2 million in grants for farmers who turn their crops into energy or other bio-based products, said Wisconsin is making progress in manufacturing ethanol within its borders – rather than importing it from Iowa or Minnesota.

“By 2006, we will be producing about 200 million gallons per year at five plants, while just three-and-one-half years ago we had only one plant under construction,” Doyle said.

Doyle pledged that his administration would continue to work with papermakers and farmers to promote alternatives to oil fuels.

“When you hear Silicon Valley, you think of California and its high-tech start-ups,” he said. “When people think of Wisconsin I went them to think of it as ‘the’ place to invest their time and money in bio-based industry development.”

Earl Gustafson, energy manager for the Wisconsin Paper Council, called Thursday’s summit a “major first step” for the state’s agriculture and forest products communities to find additional uses for the natural resources with which they already work.

“It was good to see all the people from agriculture and forest products and government around the same table to get this going,” he said.

Gustafson also praised Doyle for backing the bio-based initiatives.

“It’s obvious the governor is interested in growing Wisconsin and our economy,” he said. “He has done good things for both agriculture and forest products.”

Gustafson said it remains to be seen if farmers, loggers and paper producers can produce energy that can compete with gasoline, diesel or natural gas.

“I’m not a technical person, but paper company officials say there are risks and hurdles to be overcome. But there are big potential benefits for the Wisconsin economy.

“It will be interesting to see what can be achieved in coming years,” he said. “It’s time for us to get to work and bring some fruit from our efforts.”