Bond hosts biomass roundtable at MU

The senator believes the industry could make Missouri a renewable energy leader.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., greets biomass industry representatives at the roundtable he hosted Monday on campus. Bond said biomass is a viable form of alternative energy that Missouri could produce to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Clean energy academics, industry officials and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond gathered on campus Monday for a roundtable discussion on how Missouri can better utilize its biomass industry to become a leading producer of clean energy.

Bond, R-Mo., praised several corporate officials and an MU professor who said that Missouri could more effectively use its biomass resources, which come from its abundance of forests and grass.

He criticized the state's business tax structure as hindering biomass companies that are contemplating expansion and said that stimulating the industry would create much-needed jobs to fight the economic downturn.

"We're about to lose our biomass industry if we don't act (quickly)," he said. "This is an exciting idea. We're looking at what we can do with this. I've been trying to figure out how we can bring jobs to south Missouri, which is covered with forests."

Jim Grice, a Kansas City lawyer who is trying to bring an unnamed energy company to the Ewing Industrial Park in Columbia, said Missouri's corporate tax structure is holding the state back as it tries to encourage biomass industry expansion.

"The reason that money is going there is that their tax structure is different than ours, and it doesn't recognize the realities like the states of Kansas and Virginia do," he said.

Bond said the state needed to give more tax breaks to companies in the biomass industry even though it burns materials to make energy, rather than giving expensive subsidies to create jobs in other industries like wind power.

"Data centers are not going to be powered by hamster wheels," he said.

In a statement distributed at the roundtable, Bond also questioned how the state could block the industry's growth in times of economic distress.

"These are tough times," he said in the statement. "In an economy with a stubborn, nearly 10 percent unemployment rate, the million-dollar question we all have these days is, 'How can we create jobs?' And how can we create a thriving alternative energy industry?"

Bond also said in the statement that he supported efforts to recruit a $1.6 billion computer data center in Columbia. The center would be powered by clean-burning Missouri biomass and create thousands of jobs.

"We have a great opportunity to succeed here - not for our own sake but for the lasting employment opportunities we can help create," Bond said in the statement. "I want to secure these data centers for Missouri -- for what they can do now, and in the future."

MU agroforestry professor Gene Garrett presented several charts of data to the roundtable showing that Missouri has a high volume of grasses, forests and wood chips that could be used to generate clean energy and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but said the industries have been slow to develop.

"I would say we're very blessed in terms of grasslands, and it's not being used to its full potential," he said.

Nancy Heimann, business manager of biomass company Enginuity Worldwide LLC, said her company is trying to build partnerships with companies in other industries to provide their energy.

She said her company is going to try to keep the participants of the roundtable in contact with each other through e-mail groups so they can continue developing strategies to develop the biomass industry.

"Biomass is a tremendous opportunity in Missouri," she said. "There is no real coalition group, so the purpose here is to bring together the stakeholders. It's trying to bring together all the people who should be involved in the biomass conversation."

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