A Georgia biofuels company has drawn the attention of noted corporate-welfare critic Timothy Carney in the Washington Examiner:
To turn wood chips into ethanol fuel, George W. Bush’s Department of Energy in February 2007 announced a $76 million grant to Range Fuels for a cutting-edge refinery. A few months later, the refinery opened in the piney woods of Treutlen County, Ga., as the taxpayers of Georgia piled on another $6 million. In 2008, the ethanol plant was the first beneficiary of the Biorefinery Assistance Program, pocketing a loan for $80 million guaranteed by the U.S. taxpayers.
Last month, the refinery closed down, having failed to squeeze even a drop of ethanol out of its pine chips.
The Soperton, Ga., ethanol plant is another blemish on ethanol’s already tarnished image, but more broadly, it is cautionary tale about the elusive nature of “green jobs” and the folly of the government’s efforts at “investing” — as President Obama puts it — in new technologies.
Remember in last year’s gubernatorial campaign, when hopefuls from both major parties were throwing around the “Georgia is ‘the Saudi Arabia of pine trees’ ” line? It turns out that line of thinking is what led to the Soperton start-up, which was subsidized to the tune of $100 million, Carney writes:
Late in the Bush administration, corn-based ethanol started to get a bad rap. Corn for ethanol was crowding out other crops, and food prices were soaring. Mexicans rioted as tortilla prices spiked. So Bush started talking up “advanced biofuels” including “cellulosic ethanol”: roughly, ethanol distilled from plants that were not also food products. Bush mentioned wood chips and switchgrass in two consecutive State of the Union addresses.
Georgia politicians saw an opportunity here. “The Saudi Arabia of Pine Trees” became an unofficial state motto among Peach State politicians, and Gov. Sonny Perdue declared, “I’m confident the bioenergy industry and sector is going to be a cornerstone of the new Georgia.”
Range Fuels is a politically connected, mostly through its founder, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. Khosla has given more the $350,000 to federal candidates and campaign committees in recent years, a vast majority going to Democrats. … Despite these Democratic ties, it’s been Republicans who have lathered the subsidies on Soperton and celebrated them — Gov. Perdue, President Bush, Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.
Read the whole thing. As Carney argues, “Our ‘green’ subsidies could be postponing the day we get an alternative to foreign oil.”
One more note: Georgia Public Broadcasting last month reported that the Soperton plant did produce one batch of ethanol — specifically as a showcase to entice more investment dollars. Sounds like a job for private money, not more taxpayer funds.