Biofuels Center deserves a better fate

Sep. 22, 2013 @ 01:10 PM

Without intervention or significant investment from non-profit organizations or the private sector, the Biofuels Center of North Carolina in Oxford is due to close for good on October 1, 2013.  This is a travesty for our entire state and blame should be laid at the feet of the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory.

Since 2007, the state-funded Biofuels Center has helped North Carolina develop new industries and create jobs in a state which suffered higher unemployment than the national average throughout the recession.  Over the past six years, the Biofuels Center has helped contribute to the more than 21,000 clean energy jobs created in North Carolina.  But the misguided leadership in the General Assembly has voted against job creation by defunding the Biofuels Center in the state’s FY2014 budget.  Nearly a quarter of my constituents are below the federal poverty level and unemployment remains in the double digits throughout most of eastern North Carolina despite larger economic recovery.  We simply cannot afford to reject job creation and the building of new industries in our state by standing idly by and allowing the General Assembly to shut the door on expanding employment opportunities and innovation.

The Biofuels Center was created to help spur economic growth in renewable fuel industries throughout the state and it has been achieving that goal since its inception in 2007.  The establishment of the Biofuels Center followed an important federal law called the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) which steadily increases the amount of renewable fuel blended into gasoline to 38 billion gallons by 2022.  While the RFS is not perfect, it has contributed to the creation of jobs in new energy industries throughout the country.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance has predicted that advanced biofuels could generate $600 billion in revenue and 1.4 million jobs by 2030.  Leaders in North Carolina saw the opportunity to develop fuel locally and created the Biofuels Center to foster the growth of new energy industries to meet the increasing renewable fuel demands.

With the help of the Biofuels Center, our state has become a leader in renewable fuel production.  The Biofuels Center has invested $10.1 million in 71 projects throughout North Carolina dedicated to working with farmers to develop new biofuel crops and working with companies to build new manufacturing capacity to produce those fuels, especially in rural communities like many of those I represent in eastern North Carolina.  Our state has five major biodiesel producers and leads the nation in biodiesel stations.  When superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, Triangle Biofuels in Wilson provided significant amounts of biodiesel to the Northeast to respond to critical fuel shortages.

The Biofuels Center also has been instrumental in attracting new energy companies and capital investment in the state.  Earlier this year, I worked closely with the Biofuels Center and the White House to help secure development of a new renewable energy plant in eastern North Carolina financed by a company named Chemtex International.  The new $200 million project will break ground by 2014 and will support 65 permanent jobs and leverage an additional 250 more.  Farmers and businesses in Wayne, Sampson and Duplin counties will see up to $25 million in increased revenues thanks in large part to the work of the Biofuels Center.  Chemtex International has also discussed establishing at least five additional facilities in the state in coming years.  Defunding the Biofuels Center will cause these jobs and new industries to go to other states that would jump at the opportunity.

Losing the Biofuels Center would deprive our state of one of its greatest assets that provides one of the best values for North Carolina taxpayers and provides an enormous return on investment.  It has operated on a $4 million annual budget, which is less than two one hundredths of a percent of the entire state budget, while leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment and creating hundreds of jobs in new energy markets.  We cannot permit a runaway North Carolina General Assembly to let our renewable energy jobs and our economy crumble.  North Carolinians deserve better.

G.K. Butterfield represents North Carolina’s District 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives.