Crawford County, Pa., next in line for ethanol plant

SALEM, Ohio – If talk turns to reality, Crawford County, Pa., could become home to an ethanol production facility.

Marsha Walker, a liaison between economic groups, farmers and other planners, said the project is “definitely moving forward but nothing is concrete yet.”

Walker is the director of business development for the Crawford County Development Corporation.

The Farm Bureau has been considering the idea for years but just didn’t have a means to bring it forward, she said.

And now members see the value and are coming together in an effort to get something done.

“[Ethanol plants are] not just one thing quirky environmentalists are doing. It’s really becoming a thing,” she said.

Here and now. County commissioner Morris Waid said local farmers started talking last September about building an ethanol facility in northwestern Pennsylvania after a similar facility planned for Ashtabula County, Ohio, fell through.

County Farm Bureau members met with local and state government representatives earlier this year to feel out the interest.

That group decided to push for a feasibility study.

A planning commission is searching for grant money to fund the study, which would determine the location, size and costs associated with building.

Will it work? Planners met Monday in Meadville to learn progress of their dream.

One specific grant that’s suitable for the project won’t be available until late summer, and it would be winter before the group could see money to fund a feasibility study, Doug Gilbert reported.

Gilbert is a steering committee member and represents Crawford, Warren and Erie counties on the state Farm Bureau board.

Gilbert also said while the group prefers the ethanol plant make its home in Crawford County, they would be satisfied with a plant anywhere in northwest Pennsylvania.

“What I’m looking at is this giving local and regional agriculture a shot in the arm,” he said.

Just waiting. For now, it’s a waiting game for planners as they wait for money to perform a feasibility study.

“I feel the needs assessment will tell us if we will pursue anything, either e-diesel or [E85] gasoline,” Morris Waid said.

“This project is very positive and we want to pursue it” if conditions are right, Waid said.

In a feasibility study, consultants will determine if the area has enough corn available to fuel the plant.

In 2003, Crawford County produced nearly 2.7 million bushels of corn, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The feasibility study also looks at market availability and transportation.

“And until we get answers, we’re keeping the positive attitude that we will do something,” he said.

What’s planned. Waid said the committee behind this plan is considering a 1,300-acre tract of land south Meadville as a potential building site.

The site is “shovel ready,” Waid said, meaning it’s already cleared Department of Environmental Protection inspection.

That area is also accessible by railroad and interstate, he said.

The northwestern Pennsylvania location is ideal for ethanol production because of its proximity to Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, he said.

No other project specifics will be available until after the feasibility study.

Good placement. Walker and Waid agreed the placement of an ethanol production facility here could work wonders for the economically depressed county.

Waid said the plant would demand around 45 employees and could form spin-off businesses.

“I think this is a positive thing that would stimulate the economy a little bit,” he said, noting unemployment was a problem in northwestern Pennsylvania.

“Right now, corn is grown for ag here, but there’s vacant land. If there was a market, I’m sure land would divert to production [of corn] that could be used for ethanol,” Waid said.

“Ag is a big thing in Pennsylvania. They’ve realized there’s a business side to agriculture, and this is a great way to prove that,” Walker said.

Growing industry. Ethanol production and consumption is growing nationwide.

In late February 2004, an Iowa facility became the 73rd operating ethanol plant in the United States, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

Nationwide production capacity stands at more than 3.1 billion gallons annually. There are 14 ethanol plants under construction, according to the association.

Ethanol use consumed more than 1 billion bushels of corn in 2003.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

* * *

Finding value in ethanol



* The USDA says ethanol production adds 20-40 cents to the value of a bushel of corn.



* Ethanol production is the third largest use of U.S. corn, utilizing 10 percent of the corn crop.



* In 2003, more than 1 billion bushels of corn and 12 percent of the domestic grain sorghum crop were processed into ethanol and valuable feed co-products.



* One bushel of corn yields 2.5-2.7 gallons of ethanol from the starch component of corn.



* Overall, ethanol production adds $4.5 billion to U.S. farm income annually.



* Since 1990, farmer-owned cooperatives are responsible for the majority of new ethanol production capacity.



Source: Renewable Fuels Association

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

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