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Klamath may get ethanol plant

January 9, 2007 by Gerry Baksys, Herald and News

A Seattle-based company hopes to build a $150-million ethanol plant in Klamath Falls that would create between 45 and 50 full-time jobs.

The Klamath Falls plant would be one of 10 facilities the company, E85, plans to build around the country, said Mark Dassel, E85 senior vice president.

Trey Senn, executive director of the Klamath County Economic Development Association confirmed that E85 expressed interest in Klamath Falls. TEAM Klamath has worked with the company since August 2006 on the deal. The plant would be built near the Klamath Falls International Airport.

A final decision to build the plant will be made after the company completes a 120-day process evaluating infrastructure needs and availability, Senn said.

“They will have massive electrical needs, massive water needs and a one-mile track of rail to circle the plant,” Senn said. “TEAM Klamath has worked with them on a lot of the preliminary work so now it's just a matter of confirming the infrastructure is there to support the facility.”

Dassel said said the plan would create between 45 to 50 “well paid” full-time jobs. The plant would produce 100 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Ethanol, produced with high-starch plants, is a gasoline additive that burns cleaner and helps stretch fuel supplies. The finished product, once combined with gasoline, is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. Most gas has at least 10 percent ethanol.

Ethanol production doesn't cause major air quality issues, according to Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, and any air pollution created can be controlled by readily available technology.

Several ethanol plants are under construction in California in response to President Bush's 2005 energy bill requiring all states to use ethanol in gasoline, Martin said.

Economic impact

Initially, the corn for the plant would come in mile-long trains from the Midwest, Senn said, but eventually the company could be a buyer for local crops as well.

Greg Addington, executive director for the Klamath Water Users Association, raised several questions when asked about the impact of the proposed plant.

“One question we would ask is how much water would they use?” he said. “Maybe they would put water back into the system. I don't know. Economically, we don't know what it would mean to us, but I think there would be interest if they are considering using local products. Farmers are always interested in diversification.”

Addington said there is potential for a positive economic impact because more than 300,000 acres of irrigated farmland in the Klamath Basin could produce a crop suitable for ethanol production.

“Generally speaking, there is little or no corn grown in the Basin,” Addington said. “That is partly because of the short growing season, but also because it is a high-risk crop and there is no market for it here. I think it would be something that would bare looking into. There are other things we can grow that would make ethanol.”

Words of caution

Klamath County Commissioner Al Switzer warned that the plant is not yet finalized, and that the deal could still fall through.

“This is not an announcement but the beginning of the due diligence period for E85 while it seeks federal and state permits and conducts extensive investigations,” he said.

Senn said E85 is currently building a plant in Ohio.

“Klamath Falls was chosen as a site because of its rail access and closeness to the California market,” he said.

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is a colorless liquid that is distilled from agricultural crops, usually corn.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 mandated the use of oxygenated gasoline in areas with unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide.

The Renewable Fuels Standard, mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, calls for the gradual escalation of biofuels use in the United States. This legislation should stimulate the use of biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.
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