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BioTown, USA: Is Total Energy Self-Sufficiency Possible?

Reynolds, Indiana

Sure, it’s easy enough for one person to attempt energy self-sufficiency: put a solar panel on your roof, run your car on biodiesel, and you’re halfway there. But how easy is it for an entire town to become self-sufficient?

That’s the question that Reynolds, Indiana has been trying to answer for the past 3 years. In 2005, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels declared the town to be BioTown, USA—a model of energy self-sufficiency for the state.

The town was chosen mainly because of its small size (pop. 547), excellent rail and road access, and proximity to organic waste (within 15 miles of more than 150,000 hogs). According to the BioTown website, the finished project will showcase efficient methods of converting biomass into energy, use bioenergy to fuel homes and businesses throughout the town, promote alternative energies across the United States, and show that agricultural energy is safe, reliable, and consistent.

These are certainly some lofty goals for such a tiny town, and progress on the project has been slow. In fact, external signs of energy independence in Reynolds have been few and far between. So where does the project stand now?

As of June 9th, the White County Area Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of a re-zoning to allow construction of a methane gas-producing digester. This would use animal and human waste to create methane, which would power local homes and businesses.

However, there are still many hoops for the town to jump through before achieving energy independence. While the proposed methane digester will be useful, it may not be enough. And even if it is, the White County Commissioners still need to ultimately decide whether to approve the re-zoning request.

Reynolds is a prime example of why communities need to prepare for energy crises far in advance. If it takes a prominent project such as BioTown, USA nearly 5 years to achieve their goal—with a population of 547—how long will it take grassroots initiatives in larger towns and cities?

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