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Developers still have hopes for ethanol plant

By Staff
Demand for bidders has soared
From corn fields to Wall Street, enthusiasm for ethanol is at an all-time high. But not everyone is enthusiastic. See page 5A.
By PETER WILLIAMS, Editor
Developers still hope to break ground this spring on a $200 million ethanol plant in Beaufort County, but a top economic developer says that the process has been slowed because of the size of the project.
The national demand for ethanol plants has played a role in delaying construction of one in Aurora, according to Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer. Plans were to break ground last summer.
Ethanol has been simply described as 199-proof vodka with a splash of gasoline so people won’t drink it. It can be made from a number of substances, including wood waste and wheat but a large number of the plants use corn. Ethanol can be burned as the primary fuel in vehicles designed for its use, or blended at lower levels in regular gasoline to reduce the need to import foreign oil.
The number of contractors with the ability to build an ethanol plant is limited, but the number of communities that want one has soared, Thompson said.
The Star Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn said one builder, Fagen Inc., has booked work through 2010 and has turned down bounties as high as $1 million or more from customers looking to jump ahead on the waiting list.
Agri-Ethanol Products of Raleigh is the company looking at the Aurora site.
Dave Bradley, a leading partner with AEP, was not available for comment. However Thompson said Bradley met with PCS Phosphate officials as recently as a few weeks ago. The AEP site is adjacent to the PCS property in Aurora.
Meanwhile, a county deadline for $1.6 million in economic incentives for AEP has expired. Thompson doesn’t think that will be an issue.
The EPA wants to phase out the use of the gas additive Methyl Teriary Butyl Ether — MTBE — because of concerns it poses a public-health risk. Ethanol could be used it its place, but the EPA has set no deadline for eliminating MTBE, Thompson said.
Thompson said he’s been working on attracting an ethanol plant to Beaufort County since he arrived in 2001. He also understands that some projects take far longer than people would like.