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Published on June 19th, 2008 | by Zachary Shahan


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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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

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

  1. It’s great that they’re making the attempt — someday, they will be seen as The Town Where It Started!

  2. In the American system, many times we have to allow the politicians to have their photo op and give their speech before the real work begins. Citizenre is facing the same thing with its solar rental program. Learn more at http://www.NewSolarParadigm.com

  3. John thomas says:

    LOL, Not as long as Dictator Bush is at the helm. Sonner we rid the White house of that baggage, we might return to normal.


  4. RB says:

    Yeah, Evil Bush is keeping this town from being powered by pig poop! (rolls eyes)

    In energy conservation on a societal scale, a little done by many will outperform a lot done by a few everytime – while simultaneously being politically more palatable.

    It’s a good experiment anyway.

  5. Sam Crutsinger says:

    I’m curious if they are just trying to make a sustainable infrastructure with no change of habits for the locals or if the citizens are going out of their way to reduce consumption and lower the bar that the infrastructure has to reach.

    If they’re not doing things like replacing AC units with ground loop systems, installing solar water heaters, and sending gas guzzling vehicles off to be recycled, I don’t see it happening.

  6. Traci Haly says:

    Reynolds is my home town, though I now reside in Hawaii.

    Regarding Sam’s question, the people in Reynolds are doing all they can to make this work. However, we’re talking about a very rural, somewhat poor farming community. They are not financially able to replace AC units (many don’t have central air), install solar panels and buy hybrid cars. Most need large pickup trucks to handle transporting of things you need to work a farm. Some are already driving trucks run on Ethanol though. There is no curbside recycling, but many people in the town collect their recyclables and haul them 15 miles into the nearest town that recycles.

    As in any other endeavor, only time will tell. The Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, Rhode Island was built with both oil and electric chandeliers because no one was sure electricity would work out. In fact, the Vanderbilts were mocked for even putting electricity in because everyone thought it was a preposterous idea.

    Change takes time, but it’s definitely time for a change!

  7. Pingback: NewWays » Featured » BioTown USA

  8. Pingback: Flint’s Green Future? : EcoLocalizer

  9. Great article! If more towns would at least try to go green it would make a dramatic change on the planet.

  10. Saturday, November 8, 2008

    ‘United Stated Energy Bonds’ Can Revive The Economy Quickly
    Re: ‘United Stated Energy Bonds’ and ‘United States Energy Stamps’
    Immediate funding for new national alternative energy infrastructure
    Immediate funding for millions of jobs
    Developing capital apart from Wall Street or tax revenues

    Within every problem lies an opportunity. We can immediately take advantage of this truth to greatly benefit our country by addressing several problems simultaneously.

    We need a large number of new jobs for the people of America, (millions of jobs ASAP).
    We need a trillion dollars a year in capital for the next ten or so years to build a new alternative energy base for our country.
    We need to raise this enormous sum of money, to the greatest extent, without recourse to the financial industry, which is in turmoil and is likely to remain so for a long time, or to the country’s general tax revenues, of which there are not nearly enough for all the other demands already being made upon them.

    The government is fiscally stretched, with huge deficits and it will be difficult to fund programs that will put people to work, without fueling inflation.

    An old idea, modernized Liberty Bonds can help solve all these problems.

    ‘United Stated Energy Bonds’ and ‘United States Energy Stamps’

    United States Energy Backed Financial Instruments are an excellent alternative solution, that will generate enormous amounts of capital without upsetting other areas of the economy. There is a huge pool of money available within our country and around the world that could purchase these instruments. And these can be offered within a very short period of time, 60 to 90 days after the new President is sworn in.

    Energy bonds will generate hundreds of billions of dollars, very quickly and eventually as the funds are repaid, create a capital fund of several trillions of dollars.

    United States Energy Backed Financial Instruments would be placed with the citizens of our country or citizens of the world. They would pay a modest interest and would be repaid from the money that is saved or earned from the energy projects both small and large, that are funded with the money raised through them.

    The money raised with Energy Bonds should be legally segregated from the general funds raised through taxes and other revenue procedures of the Federal Government, allowing them to build to the tremendous levels that will be required to redevelop our energy generation and energy use infrastructure. These funds should not be commingled in any way with other government funds. This money should be loaned or should be used for loan guarantees, rather than given or granted. With time, as this pool of money grows, enormous amounts of money will be available to help launch the many large alternative energy projects the business and industrial sectors of United States must build (high mileage autos, solar thermal generators, solid state power panel manufacturing and other facilities to produce all the necessary equipment and systems),and also, to capitalize the very great amount of work, the people must do, (home energy improvements, water and air heating systems, heat pumps, distributed end use solar electric systems, et c.), to re-found our country on a new secure energy base.

    Eventually, in ten or twenty or thirty years, when the new alternative energy infrastructure has come into existence, and the enormous pool of funds that will have built it up is no longer required, the money might be turned over to the social security administration to cover the enormous cost of social security and other entitlement programs. The U.S. is facing huge funding deficits for these social programs, daunting problems that have no apparent solution at this time. The future Energy Bond Fund, having served it’s intended purpose, might help solve these deficit problems.

    In conclusion, it should be noted, that Energy Bonds would be unique revenue bonds that fund projects that will pay the interest and repay the principal. The money raised through their use would be raised apart from Wall Street. In this way, the shortage of credit in the financial community will have very little or no effect on the raising of money needed to finance a new alternative energy infrastructure. Building the infrastructure will generate millions of new jobs the U.S. needs to create as quickly as possible. And the Economy will boom as all this money flows into the hands of our people.

    The secret to the power of Energy Bonds is due to their unique ability to be repaid with money from energy saved or from energy generated and sold. Unlike a typical revenue bond, such as bonds repaid from tolls on a new bridge or highway, Energy Bonds will lower costs and/or raise income that will pay the bond’s obligations.

    This unique repayment situation will make United States Energy Bonds the most secure bonds on earth.

    In these ways, many problems and many opportunities can combine to create many excellent solutions.

    There are several other benefits to using Energy Bonds to capitalize a new energy system for the United States, but time and space are limited

  11. Very Good article/write up – thanks for the comments and extra info from fellow members. 🙂 you’ve just inspired me to start the road onto being self sufficient! But i’m wondering if the UK has much help in terms of deploying/constructing a system but regardless it is quite worth it to become self sufficient as possible! ITs also very fun as well =)


  12. Great Article – Wish the UK was able to adopt this attitude. It actually makes great sense to start creating what i call ‘local’ generation of power. Bio-mass from whatever source is always constantly being shed or provided for by our own waste to nature changing season! Two thumbs up for this article 🙂

  13. Why dont you go straight for perfection rather than living out a tankered and very drawn out process of job creation? It seems that having a job is the all important thing these days but without sounding too hippie – why did they need that job in the first place? I believe that when your 20yr old its like the thing to have so you can ‘find’ or build’ that life you want but when your 40 it seems to have changed to a point where a person neither gives two damns why they are doing, only that it keeps their ‘way’ of life going and into retirement.

    What would happen if we just went to perfection? building the best that we can with whta we have at the moment? wouldnt it mean that we would be able to take some of the burden off of our lives if we all worked as one to build a ‘better’ running city with bio mass as power generation or using all forms from the wind to the sun as supplementary systems?

    I appluad the town for its inspiration feat and agree that all towns or cities should make a bigger push, not to trade carbon credits but to actually make a consistent and pro active approach to making a difference rather than achieving their so called balance by using carbon credits. Its rubbish and we are so far beyond balancing it out – we used to have a 30% oxygen content in the atmosphere, we now are at 17% any lower and we’re in the dying zone. hell the planet is dying as it is.

    @ James flaherty:

    what your talking about really is fiddling the system and generating a whole load of money from nothing. You say there is cash already in the system, the main problem is that there is TOO much money in the system which preceeded the credit crisis and although your contribution is a sound idea, i dont think labelling them as the most solid bonds on the planet is actually sound thinking. You talk about interest on top of money and that is literally the start and end of your problems. If you have $1 with interest on top of that, where do you get the money to pay that interest? YOU CANT. You’d have to print more money and that would mean more interest on that each piece you just printed to cover the first. Read up on President Andrew Jackson – he explains money, the monetary system and everything else much more clearer than i can.

    No – a better option would be to use the money they have taken back into the FED (read your m3 report or even FT or whatever about circulation of the dollar) and you’d see that even if you run by the mantra of more dollars means less worth, that would be on a international economic scale, for domestic use inside country use – well that is the trick and the perfect lie – use it to give the people something to spend whilst being able to get back on your feet with the plan you told above – but you can go one step further and by making people self sufficient not only do you release their reliance on such industries and jobs but also you tackle the natural rate of unemployment. In any given situation without fiddling the numbers you always have a natural rate of unemployment, if these people were to be ‘of service’ to the country and its people then hwy not also look at using this human resources for not just municipal jobs/duties but as in building the alternatives energy infrastructure?

  14. anthony amato says:

    One big mistake it seems all are making and that is using corn to make ethanol. They may wish to look into using switch grass. According to the tv program, if memory serves me right, switch grass will give them about 6/9 times more ethanol then corn.

    Also since the started all this business of corn to make ethanol. It has cost the consumer a lot more due to the increase in consumer goods.

  15. Reames Farms says:

    The ethanol plant south of Reynolds is bare earth with no further work done. The gas digester project has been put on hold indefinitely. The Biotown office is empty although the state of Indiana still wastes funds by keeping it open.

    Had the state concentrated on wind, solar and biomass Biotown might have had a chance. Instead Daniels in particular and the state government in general needed to concentrate on alcohol for the agriculture base of the state. That need doomed the project from the start and the powers that be were too short sighted to see it. Just an expensive campaign photo op for Lt Governor Stillman. A waste of good land and hard cash.

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