Hoping for the Best of Times

By Tim Portz
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness �" The opening line of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" goes through my head whenever I think about the current state of the renewable energy industry.

Anyone who wants to find bad news in our industry (or any other industry in the world), doesn't have to look far. An incredibly tight credit market has tabled or outright foiled many good initiatives and projects. Volatile corn prices coupled with downward trending ethanol prices have forced some producers to seek Chapter 11 protection. Throw in a well-funded propaganda campaign suggesting that the ethanol industry is responsible for world deforestation and high food prices and the picture looks bleak. I remember hearing about deforestation when I was in grade school in the early 80's-long before the development of the ethanol industry-but today it's suddenly all being blamed on ethanol. In an economy peppered with hard-luck stories our industry has taken its share of lumps in 2008.

That being said, whenever things look bleak-and I've heard talking head after talking head bemoan the death of the innovative spirit, or our collective inability to really address the energy crisis in our country-I take solace in the many renewable energy conferences I have attended.

I invite anyone who needs a strong dose of optimism to choose a renewable energy conference, sign up and attend. I've had the privilege of being surrounded by many "glass is half-full" types at renewable energy conferences. If you haven't, I'll tell you why it's so uplifting. There are many, highly intelligent people in our country developing renewable, clean energy, and it feels good to hear them talk about it.

I remember the times I've listened to Steve Flick of Show Me Energy Co-op in Centerview, Mo., talk about his pellet cooperative. The cooperative is providing quality, renewable, clean energy pellets to a Missouri utility and delivering a profit to its members. He always ends his presentation by saying "this is about our kids and our country." His optimism and hope is infectious.

I also think about Jerry Jennisen of JerLin Farms in Brooten, Minn., who ventured into the world of anaerobic digestion on his dairy operation because he thought it was the right thing to do. In addition to running a full-time dairy operation, Jennisen takes time to share his experiences with anyone who's interested.

I don't have a crystal ball, so what's going to happen in 2009 will remain a mystery until Jan. 1, 2010. However, because the Jennisens and Flicks of this world are out there, I have a feeling that we may be on the verge of the best of times.

Tim Portz is a business developer with BBI International's Community Initiative to Improve Energy Sustainability. Reach him at [email protected] or (651) 398-9154.