Plainview, Texas, mayor John Anderson took advantage of an ethanol plant construction groundbreaking ceremony to extol the benefits the facility will bring to the city, and also suggested to the top brass at White Energy Company that he’d be happy to host a similar ceremony for a biodiesel plant.

“We thank White Energy for locating this plant in Plainview,” he said at a ceremony moved inside to provide some security against the tornado warnings that filled the airwaves on a mid-April day in the High Plains.

“The ethanol plant will have a $100 million impact on our community,” the mayor said. “That’s significant,” to a town of 22,000 souls. The plant also will bring in 70 or more new jobs.

The Plainview facility represents a growing trend of energy companies building renewable fuel facilities out of the Corn Belt and closer to end users. Some 120 plants currently produce ethanol throughout the country.

That’s good news for rural America, in the form of 153,000 jobs and a $5.7 billion boost to household incomes, Anderson said.

Grain producers also expect to reap benefits from the renewable fuels surge. Speakers at the Plainview ceremony noted thata ethanol production requires 36 million bushels of corn, grain sorghum, or other grain to meet demand of a 100-million gallon ethanol facility, the size of Plainview’s plant.

Southwest grain producers welcome the influx of ethanol plants, although much of the raw material will come from out of state. In addition to boosting corn prices, grain sorghum producers also will benefit.

“We're feeling optimistic about the grain sorghum crop this year” said Tim Lust CEO, National Sorghum Producers.

“The moisture situation is looking good. Ethanol is driving demand and giving producers a reason to look at sorghum again, if they haven't in a while.”

“We're seeing big acreage increases in South Texas and also in the Southeast. Though the seed supply is tighter than normal, there's still enough available for growers who are thinking about planting grain sorghum.”

“We see value in dryland crops for ethanol,” said John Neufeld, White Energy chief operating officer, noting that dryland crops fit into the system because they produce grain even under weather stress.

The industry needs the consistency, he said. White Energy recently bought a plant in Russell, Kansas that uses only grain sorghum. “Milo works well, and ethanol yield is equal to corn.”

Neufeld said White Energy will also pursue development of cellulosic ethanol production.

“It’s interesting, but we still have some logistics to work out with the raw materials. We take in a lot of cellulose with the grain we use, so our initial work will be with the cellulose we already have.

“A lot of people are working on the process. We can do it — the question is: can we do it efficiently?”

Kevin Kirkland, White Energy CEO, said the company will produce 250 million gallons of ethanol in the near future to become “one of the top players in the industry. E-85 is a major focus of the country’s energy independence.”

Texas will play an important role in meeting national goals. “Texas currently is the second largest consumer of gasoline,” Kirkland said. That makes the state a good candidate for ethanol production.

“Texas provides us a site with close proximity to markets,” Kirkendall said. “It also has lots of cattle and allows us to shave costs with distillers grain. We don’t have to dry it and ship it, but can use it locally. We will put Texas on the map for ethanol.”

White Energy is finishing another plant at Hereford, Texas.

“We should be operational there in the fourth quarter of 2007,” Kirkendall said. “We hope to be operational in Plainview in the first quarter of 2008.

“When both plants are running, we should be among the top 10 ethanol producers in the United States. We expect to produce 500 to 700 million gallons of renewable fuels annually in seven to 10 years. We plan to be in the top five renewable fuels companies in the next five years.”

Kirkendall said White Energy will acquire and build plants and expand into biodiesel.

“We will continue to market and locate next to cattle.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com