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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Renewable Energy Programs and the Farm Bill: Status and Issues

Randy Schnepf
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) renewable energy programs have been used to incentivize adoption of renewable energy projects including solar, wind, and anaerobic digesters. However, the primary focus of USDA renewable energy programs has been to promote U.S. biofuels production and use—including corn starch-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and soybean-based biodiesel.

The 2002 farm bill (Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, P.L. 107-171) was the first omnibus farm bill to explicitly include an energy title (Title IX). The energy title authorized grants, loans, and loan guarantees to foster research on agriculture-based renewable energy, to share development risk, and to promote the adoption of renewable energy systems. The 2002 farm bill was followed by two major energy bills (the Energy Policy Act of 2005, P.L. 109-58; and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, P.L. 110-140), which established and expanded a national biofuels mandate along with several other renewable energy programs.

The 2008 farm bill (Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, P.L. 110-246) built on the 2002 farm bill as well as the previous renewable energy legislation, but refocused biofuels policy initiatives in favor of non-corn feedstocks, especially cellulosic-based feedstocks, in response to growing concerns about the emerging spillover effects of increasing corn use for ethanol production. Like the 2002 farm bill, the 2008 farm bill contained a distinct energy title (Title IX) that significantly expanded the number and types of programs available to support renewable energy production and use. In addition, new renewable-energy provisions were included in the rural development (Title VI), research (Title VII), livestock (Title XI), and tax (Title XV) titles of the 2008 farm bill.

The 2008 farm bill authorized $1.1 billion in mandatory funding for energy programs for FY2008 through FY2012, compared with $800 million in the 2002 farm bill (FY2002-FY2007). Mandatory authorization in the 2008 farm bill includes $320 million to the Biorefinery Assistance Program, $300 million to the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, and $255 million to the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) is authorized to receive such sums as necessary (i.e., funding is open-ended and depends on program participation). Discretionary funding in the 2008 farm bill totaled $1.7 billion (including $600 million for the Biorefinery Assistance Program), compared to $245 million in the 2002 farm bill. However, all discretionary program funding is subject to the annual appropriations process, which may or may not appropriate funds due to budget constraints. Actual discretionary appropriations to Title IX energy programs have been substantially below authorized levels through FY2012.

Implementation of the farm bill’s energy provisions is ongoing. President Obama, in May 2009, directed USDA and the Department of Energy (DOE) to accelerate implementation of renewable energy programs. Notices, proposed rules, and final rules have appeared in the Federal Register soliciting applications for those programs with available funding. The primary energy-related issue for the next farm bill is the expiration at the end of FY2012 and lack of baseline funding going forward for all major energy-related provisions of Title IX. In addition, the appearance of substantial redundancy across renewable energy programs at USDA and DOE, the slow development of the U.S. cellulosic biofuels sector, and concerns about the emerging spillover effects of increasing corn use for ethanol production are issues that are likely to emerge during the next farm bill debate.

Date of Report: November 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: R41985
Price: $29.95

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