Sharon ethanol plant plans unveiled

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Nov. 27, 2006, 11:38 a.m.)

In front of a packed village hall audience Friday, Global Renewable officially announced plans to build one of the biggest ethanol plants in the state on Highway 67 just outside the village.

The company was set up by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, his former ethanol coalition head Jeffery P. Knight, businessman Tom Weickardt and a fourth partner in Brazil. Global Renewable wants to gather as much corn as possible in a 50-mile radius and process it into a renewable fuel that could reduce the United States' dependency on foreign oil.

Initial plans call for the proposed $195 million plant to produce 105 million to 120 million gallons of ethanol per year. Ethanol is used as an additive in Wisconsin gasoline and is gaining popularity in "flex-fuel" vehicles that can run on E-85, a newer blend of the fuel.

"It's good for the local economy, good for the local farmers and, hopefully, good for the corn price," Sharon farmer Mike Cerny said. "We're in the business to make money, and if someone comes along to help put money in our pocket, that's a good thing."

Corn for ethanol production typically sells for 16 cents more per bushel than for other uses, Knight said.

"It's not a partisan issue," Knight said. "This has Republicans and Democrats working hand-in-hand. Ethanol is good for the country and the growth of the domestic product."

Global Renewable chose the site over at least three others because of its proximity to needed infrastructure. The 191-acre parcel is a little more than a mile west of the village on a wedge of agricultural land between the north side of Highway 67 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

The highways are adequate for trucks to bring corn to the plant. The railroad tracks can handle the 100 rail cars expected to transport processed ethanol to the East Coast about every 10 days. A granary is nearby to accept corn remnants that can be sold for high-protein livestock feed. Also, a major underground natural gas line is about a mile away, Knight said.

Most important is the access to a quality corn crop, Knight said. The plant could use 37.8 million bushels of corn per year.

"(Ethanol production) is the best market we can find (for corn)," said Bob Oleson, executive director of the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. "We keep increasing production 5 percent per year. We need to find a home for that 5 percent every year."

While the project's economic benefits are attractive - 55 permanent jobs when the plant is open, 200 construction jobs to build the facility and an extra $100 million annually in the community - some residents aren't sure they want an ethanol plant near their homes.

"That's going to be right across the street from several people," said Jessica Peterson, who with four or five other neighbors can look out her front door at the cornfield where the plant would go. "If you want to live in the country, who is going to buy property that's right across the street from an industrial park?"

Global Renewable is looking to annex the land into the village. That process could take two months or longer, Village Attorney Brian Schuk said. Land between the village limits and the proposed site also might need to be annexed to connect the plant to the village.

Plans are preliminary, but the area might also be considered for a tax incremental finance district, Schuk said.

Ethanol plants can help ensure a small community's success, Thompson said.

"I believe in farming, and I believe we have to find different products and different ways for our farmers to be able to grow and expand," Thompson said.

Village President Bob Carlson agreed.

"An ethanol plant is going to do a couple major things for everybody... It's going to help profits for farmers. It's going to help the family farm. We're an agriculture community and they're an agriculture company.

"Most importantly, it's going to keep young farmers in the community. Farms are starting to go by the wayside because family members don't want to stay involved.

"It will help with our tax base down the road. It's going to help with jobs. It will help with the vitality of everything."

Global Renewable hopes to open the plant by October 2008.

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