PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - As some lawmakers in Frankfort and Washington push for the legalization of industrial hemp, an Eastern Kentucky businessman says the plant could play a big role in shaping Kentucky's energy future.
Roger Ford is the CEO of Patriot Bioenergy in Pikeville. He says hemp has a lot to offer his business.
"The attractive thing about hemp is the ability to grow it on a small amount of acreage and get a high yield," he said.
He says hemp can can be processed into a number of alternative energy sources, from biomass to burn in power plants to ethanol and biodiesel for cars.
Federal law prohibits the production of industrial hemp, but Ford says he thinks that law may soon be changing. He says if it does, Kentucky needs to be ready.
"We export coal, we export natural gas, we produce electricity and export electricity," Ford said. "We are missing the opportunity to be a leader in this area."
Ford says a discussion on energy has been missing from the latest push for hemp legalization.
"They're focusing a lot on the farming aspect and the benefit to farmers, but what we're seeing is a lack of focus on energy benefits and the potential for it as an energy crop," he said.
Critics of industrial hemp point to the crop's similarity to marijuana, which they say will hinder drug enforcement efforts, but Ford says those fears are overblown, and the potential economic benefits to the Commonwealth are too great to pass up.
A study by the Eastern Kentucky University Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies estimates a refinery producing 50 million gallons of biodiesel fuel a year would have an economic impact of $480 million and create about 2,000 jobs.