Are we finally making progress in energy independence?
When the United States was subject to the OPEC oil embargo more than 30 years ago, how many of us expected to be dealing with the same problem -- dependence on foreign oil -- this far into the 21st century?
With gasoline set to climb through the $3 mark and keep on going, perhaps the problem is finally ready to receive the attention it should have received back then.
Among the hopeful signs: Monday's groundbreaking at the Cambridge ethanol plant. Set to begin production in June 2007, it will turn 16 million bushels of corn into about 44 million gallons of ethanol and 400,000 tons of distiller's grain each year.
Trenton's ethanol plant is in full operation, and another is planned for at Perry, just west of McCook.
But ethanol is only one piece of the energy challenge puzzle.
We would have liked to see more done sooner, but a national initiative, 25x'25, intends to have agriculture provide 25 percent of the nation's energy by the year 2025.
Sponsored by the Energy Future Coalition, the program includes wind and solar power, biofuels such as soydiesel and ethanol, and methane gas generation from livestock manure.
Leading the Nebraska effort is term-limited State Sen. Bob Kremer of Aurora, who told the Grand Island Independent that he sees it as a great potential market for agricultural products.
"For too long in agriculture, we have raised a commodity and looked for a market for it," he said. "But we are seeing what the need is for energy and our dependence on foreign oil. This is a great opportunity for agriculture, and we are in a position, as good as anybody, to fill that need."
And there is more good news. On April 15, a coalition of Nebraska utilities and universities announced they were forming the "Partners in Energy Research," to develop new sources of energy and new ways to conserve energy.
Involved are the Omaha Public Power District, Lincoln Electric System, Nebraska Public Power District, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Nebraska-Omaha.
It includes three components, including the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research, which was launched March 10 when the NPPD directors approved $5 million for UNL research projects aimed at developing domestic energy resources and improving efficiency. Initially, it will look into more efficient generation, water and energy use, energy efficiency and conservation, carbon and nitrogen sequestration, biomass and bio-refineries, wind energy, fuel cells and highly-efficient batteries for electric vehicles.
The second component is a partnership between UNO and OPPD, the Energy Savings Potential program, designed to explore Energy conservation and efficiencies, and the third involves the LES in evaluating several renewable energy projects and funding electric power research.
Southwest Nebraska is already doing its part to boost ethanol production. Now, it's time for us to get involved in other areas, such as soydiesel, biomass, wind and solar.