Energy equals food

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by Bernie Niemeier

It seems kind of obvious when you think about it.  Energy isn’t just about carbon-based or even alternative fuels.  It’s also about the food on our tables.

But the problem is that most of us haven’t been thinking about it until very recently.  Lots of popular business phrases like tipping points, chaos or game theory come to mind.  However you describe it, energy is at the economic center of an interesting/disturbing set of current events.

Record-high oil prices are just the beginning of a set of interrelated energy concerns.  Twenty-five percent of U.S. corn crop has been diverted into ethanol production, contributing to higher prices for beef, milk, eggs and all other staples that depend on corn or substitute grains at some point in the food chain.

Worldwide, the price of rice has risen even faster than gas — by as much as 60 percent in six months.  Thirty million people on the planet subsist primarily on rice, 20 million of them entirely on rice.

The Myanmar typhoon hit one of the most important rice-growing regions in the world.  The earthquake in China is undoubtedly slowing another economy that recently has been providing steady gains in global trade.

The U.S. is the world’s largest energy consumer, and its military alone is the largest consumer of foreign oil.  Yet little of the presidential election rhetoric has touched on energy any more deeply than populist promises for relief on gas prices.

Energy is just as much a part of our interstate commerce system as four-lane highways.  Everybody wants power, but no one seems to want power lines or generating plants using coal or nuclear power, at least not in their backyard. 

Even the much-touted broadband economy has given rise to a significantly higher demand on the electrical grid to power server farms, many of them here in the commonwealth.

Virginia has a rich tradition of being a leader, and it’s time that we apply that heritage to energy.  Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s Virginia Energy Plan is just a beginning.  Other states, like West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, already are well down the road on coal to liquid, bio-mass and other fuel alternatives.

The drive toward American energy independence will create growth industries from new energy technologies and Virginia with its pro-business environment, quality educational institutions, and work-force development programs has the potential to be the leader.

It seems kind of obvious when you think about it.

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