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Will ethanol go the way of biodiesel in Rock County?

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Stacy Vogel
December 16, 2007
— The United Ethanol plant might be operating at full capacity and boosting the local economy, but at least one plant opponent doesn’t think it will last.

Leanne Glorvigen, one of the leading critics of the plant during planning and construction, points to recent troubles in the biodiesel industry and worries they could spread to the ethanol field.


North Prairie Productions announced in November it was halting production on a $42 million biodiesel plant in Evansville because the cost of soybeans has gotten too high for biodiesel to be profitable.


“I think that’s a portent of things to come with ethanol,” Glorvigen said.


Although ethanol producers have seen corn prices rise, the industry is more stable than biodiesel, said Joe Johansen, vice president of ethanol operations at United Ethanol.


“The ethanol industry is not as lucrative as it was two years ago, but ethanol is here to stay,” he said.


Glorvigen isn’t so sure. She referred to a Wall Street Journal column that ran Nov. 24. In it, Robert W. Hahn, co-chairman of President George H.W. Bush’s U.S. Alternative Fuels Council, argued ethanol is not cost efficient and has little environmental benefit.


In 2005, ethanol took about 15 percent of U.S. corn supplies but displaced less than 2 percent of gasoline use, Hahn wrote.


“Even if all corn produced in the U.S. were devoted to distilling ethanol, the renewable fuel would amount to about 12 percent of the gasoline demand in 2005,” he wrote.


But Johansen is confident U.S. farmers will find a way to meet ethanol producers’ demand for corn, he said.


Studies claiming corn ethanol isn’t cost efficient or environmentally friendly are outdated because new technology has reduced energy use and lowered costs, Johansen said.


“The biggest thing I feel comfortable about is we’re environmentally friendly,” he said.


Click here to read the main story about the economic impact of the ethanol plant

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