What's the Real Cost?

Last week, Gov. Haley Barbour called a special legislative session to have Mississippi lawmakers vote on a $45 million incentive package for KiOR, a company that produces a crude-oil substitute. KiOR used 20 tons of wood chips in its model plant in Texas to produce 15 barrels of oil. The three proposed plants in Mississippi will eventually employ 1,000 workers.

The governor was anything but transparent with his constituents regarding the deal. Why was secrecy over the deal requisite? What does Barbour not want citizens to know? Who's making money? Who stands to lose?

KiOR's technology is, admittedly, experimental. It has yet to be proven in any large-scale production capacity. How can such technology be certified as a good deal for taxpayer money in the current economic climate?

Biofuels have yet to be shown as viable sources of energy. Most biomass proposed for production of biofuels has proven to take more energy to grow than the resulting fuel they produce. Putting agricultural land in the service of growing biomass reduces production of food, driving up its cost, which ultimately hurts most the people who can least afford it.

KiOR's model plant used wood chips for biomass. The math should give pause: If it takes 20 tons of wood chips to produce 15 barrels of oil, it will take more than 5,300 tons of wood to produce the 4,000 barrels a day the company's forecasts project (about 0.02 percent of America's current fuel consumption). Assuming the average loblolly pine produces 1,500 pounds of wood, we would need more than 7,000 trees a day, or, at 350 trees an acre, about 20 acres of trees every day. And while trees are technically renewable, it will take about 35 years to re-grow a mature forest once cut down. Where is the biomass going to come from to feed the KiOR process?

Where, governor, is the integrated management approach and partnership with federal agencies called for the in the current administration's plan to ensure the success of biofuel ventures throughout the entire supply chain?

Finally, simply replacing the source for oil is a minuscule part of the equation. We can neither drill nor grow our way out of our massive dependence on oil. America must significantly lower its demand and use of oil to wean us from our oil addiction. We must make significant investments in alternative forms of energy, including solar, wind and water.

One thousand jobs is nothing to sneeze at when more than 150,000 Mississippians are unemployed. But is this investment worth $45,000 per job?

Par for the course, this deal was rammed down the throats of the Legislature with insufficient time and information. Without knowing the real costs, the Legislature's pro votes were simply irresponsible.


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