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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The global economy comes to Sharon

I've never had a hard time finding parking in downtown Sharon before. But a week ago, on Nov. 24, the street outside the village hall was as packed with cars as the room inside was packed with local residents.

They were there to hear about a proposal to build an ethanol plant just outside the village.

As Mike Heine describes in this week's cover story, the plant will be one of the biggest in the state and is just the latest in what appears to be a boom in ethanol production in this part of the state.

While the presentation focused on why Sharon was good for an ethanol plant and why an ethanol plant would be good for Sharon, the ripple effect of this project could remake the agriculture economy in Walworth County.

For example, what would an ethanol plant do to the price of soy sauce?

Jeffrey Knight, one of the partners in Global Renewable, LLC, made the pitch that the increased demand for corn would improve the price farmers would get for corn in the area.

However, many area farmers provide soybeans to the Kikkoman soy sauce plant in Walworth. If farmers switch from beans to corn, will that drive up the price of beans?

And what about growing capacity? As we all know, land is at a premium in Walworth County. I doubt we'll ever see non-agricultural land returned to productive farmland to grow corn, but will the increased demand for corn help preserve the farmland in production that we already have?

Knight says the finished product from the plant is destined for East Coast markets. The market for bio fuels, however, is growing even in our own back yards.

Coincidentally, I found out that I've been a potential ethanol customer for years, although I didn't know it until last weekend.

I was filling up my wife's minivan at the gas station, when I noticed the label on the gas cap. It's a flex fuel vehicle.

That means I can fill the tank with either unleaded gas or E85 fuel, which is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent unleaded.

We've had the vehicle for five years, and I never noticed it would run on ethanol. It also gives me another alternative fuel option while I consider a veggie car conversion (See "Vegetation Transportation" in the Oct. 29 edition.)

Realistically, large facilities like this are rarely embraced unanimously.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, another partner in the company, alluded to as much in his remarks.

After all the planning and meetings are done, if the community doesn't want the plant, "we'll go somewhere else," Thompson said.

So residents and community leaders need to apply the lessons that other communities learned after deciding on ethanol projects of their own.

I'm guessing it's a good time to be in farming in Walworth County, although with any economic shift, there are winners and losers.

Let's hope that with good planning and the commitment to the community that the partners in Global Renewable expressed, that Walworth County will be one of the winners.

~Dan Plutchak
Editor


4 Comments:

Anonymous Heather Cudworth, Williams Bay said...

To The Editor:
When something as potentially life-changing as an ethanol plant wants to come to our area, a little look at the scientific research and at the experiences of other communities with ethanol plants is in order.

According to the State of Minnesota's Pollution Control Agency, when Minnesota's ethanol plants were first being built, it was believed that the pollution levels would be low. However, once they were built, the MPCA found that the VOC (volatile organic compound) levels were ten times higher than what they had been told.

The emissions included ethanol, methanol, acetaldehyde, acrolein, formaldehyde, 2-furaldehyde, acetic acid, and lactic acid. Followup testing done by the EPA found that CO (carbon monoxide) and small particle emissions may also have been significantly underestimated or misrepresented.

These chemicals include carcinogens (which cause cancer), respiratory toxicants (which can cause or worsen asthma, emphysema, and lung disease), and developmental toxicants (which can cause birth defects, low birth weight, biological dysfunctions, or psychological or behavioral deficits that are discovered in childhood).

Not only can these emissions damage the health of the residents in the region surrounding an ethanol plant, but the smell can make living there nearly unbearable, according to JoAnn Czajka of Monroe, WI, home of Badger State Ethanol, a smaller ethanol plant than the one proposed for Sharon.

She states that there is a gagging stench in the air and pollutant film collecting daily on her deck and furniture, especially on overcast, still days when her house, like her neighbors' houses, sits in a fog of pollution. Neighbors of Adkins Energy, in Lena, IL, have similar complaints of being unable to let their children play outdoors when the wind is from the direction of the plant because the smell is so overwhelming.

It is stated to be strong even two miles away from the ethanol plant.
Some may ask, "Isn't it worth the inconvenience and even the possible harm to area residents for the greater good of producing a fuel that will make us, as a nation, less reliant on fossil fuels?" Let's do a little more research.

Dr. Tad W. Patzek, a professor of GeoEngineering at the University of California, published an exhaustive study in the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences on the efficiency of growing corn and converting it into ethanol. He factored in all of the many energy inputs required to produce ethanol, from the fuel used to produce the fertilizers to the energy required to transport the ethanol to where it will be used.

His results? The total energy needed to grow the corn and produce ethanol from it is up to seven times the energy that the ethanol produced can provide to the vehicle using it. In other words, we're actually using many times more energy to produce corn ethanol than the ethanol gives back.

Dr. Patzek states that he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt "that the industrial corn-ethanol cycle accelerates the irrevocable depletion of natural resources: fossil fuels, minerals, top soil, surface and subsurface water, and air, while creating wide-spread environmental damage."

And his calculation doesn't include the added human and financial costs of cancers, asthma, and other ills caused by the pollution from ethanol production.
The information I've found makes the conclusion pretty obvious to me: An ethanol plant in Walworth County is bad for us, bad for our environment, and bad for U.S. energy independence.

As one whose ancestors settled in Walworth County before Wisconsin was a state, and whose heart is here, I conclude that it's in my best interests, and in the best interests of anyone who wants to live and thrive in Walworth County long-term, to oppose the building of an ethanol plant in our county.

It appears that we're being assumed to be fools -- a bunch of country bumpkins who don't know any better than to allow themselves and their children to be poisoned for the profit of a select few. The question is: Are they right?

Heather Cudworth
Williams Bay

11:13 AM  
Anonymous anne said...

Thanks, Thanks, Thanks

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NO PLANT..ONLY TROUBLE
What if are wells dry up. Then we drink Ethanol!!! They forgot to tell you it takes 4 gallons of water to convert one gallon of ethanol. What about the other.natural gas.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Thom said...

Absolutely NO

9:32 PM  

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