The Levelland, Hockley County Ethanol plant cranked up March 13 and produced its first batch of renewable fuel early morning March 17, the first of what officials expect to be 40 million gallons per year.

White Energy's ethanol plant at Hereford fired up its 100-million-gallon plant and produced its first load in January. The company's 110-million gallon plant in Plainview is slated to start production in late April or the first of May, says Omer Sagheer, White Energy vice president for marketing and public policy.

“We're now loading out wet cake from our first batch,” said Sam Sacco, general manager at the Levelland facility.

Sacco expects the facility to develop a symbiotic relationship with this rural community about an hour's drive west of Lubbock, Texas. “This will be good for the community,” he said. “For one thing, for the first time in the area, farmers will have a 24-7 milo market and a good price.”

He said the plant, under construction since October, 2006, will use 15 million bushels of milo per year. “That's 42,000 bushels a day, 48 trucks every day. I hope farmers take advantage of this opportunity.”

Currently, he's shipping in corn. “We're testing with corn but by this time next year we hope to be 100 percent local milo. We're selling distillers grain to local dairies, who like the milo because it has higher protein and less fat than corn. We're also capping carbon dioxide, which goes to oil fields.”

The plant uses gray water from the city in the production process.

“And for the first time in this area Conoco/Phillips will offer E-10 and E-85 fuel locally,” Sacco said.

Sagheer said both the Hereford and Plainview plants will use grain sorghum and corn, and will buy as much as possible from local producers. “We're trying to get farmers to grow more,” he said.

White Energy will sell some of their ethanol production locally. “We'll also ship some to Dallas, Houston and Southern California,” Sagheer said.

Sacco said area cotton farmers can add milo to their cropping system, get a good price for it and help their cotton land. “It's a neat situation. Farmers can produce milo for a good price, get distillers grain for their livestock or dairy cows and fill their trucks up with ethanol that came from their crop. It's ideal and a good fit for the community as a whole.”

Saco said the combination of manufacturing, agriculture and related industries increases jobs and income for the rural community. “We need the farmers and we believe they need us,” he said. “We're contributing to the community with jobs and helping to recycle water.”

Sagheer said ethanol offers rural communities opportunities they have not seen for years.

“Ethanol may not be the be-all and end-all for energy,” he said, “but it's better than the alternative available now. Ethanol plants bring in good paying jobs and improvements in infrastructure give a big boost to the economy.”

He said the plant adds about 50 jobs directly but another 100 to 150 indirect jobs. “We don't see many industries coming into rural America these days,” he said.

Those economic incentives “strengthen rural communities. Ethanol plants create funds, increase the tax base and improve schools (and other services).”

Sacco said the local supply and the local outlet for ethanol creates a unique opportunity for the rural community to use a product in which they have a stake.

Recent price hikes for corn and milo have tightened profit margins for ethanol production, Sagheer said. “But we have to manage through it.”

He said White Energy has no other plants either on the planning board or under construction in the Southwest. “We have one in Russell, Kan., a 50 million-gallon facility, that uses grain sorghum.”

He said gas companies have begun offering fuel with ethanol blends in West Texas because they see a consistent supply.