Senator Amy Klobuchar stepped into the Granite Falls Energy conference room and briefly surveyed the group of ethanol industry representatives before asking: how are things going?
With a grin and without pause, homegrown captain of industry, Ron Fagen exclaimed “terrible” with the sort of jovial exuberance that would have seemed more appropriate for “best year ever.”
But that’s Fagen, and the ever positive outlook that may just go hand-in-hand with success. Aside from a good laugh, the declaration alos set the tone for the informal talk organized in conjuction with the Senator’s “Homegrown Energy Tour,” a two day outing in which the senator held discussions with ethanol, biodiesel, wind, and solar energy leaders that stressed the importance of homegrown energy production to Minnesota’s economy and America’s national security.
The back and forth served as an avenue for each of those present to relay and receive the newest ethanol related developments and to discuss how they might come into play in terms of public policy.
Following the meeting Klobuchar and others part of the conversation received a tour of the facility. Aside from Fagen and GFE representaties, Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association Executive Director, Timothy Rudnicki; Nick Bowdish, General Manager of Platinum Ethanol, of Arthur, Iowa and Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski were also present.
The difficulties facing ethanol producers over the last few years has occured as the industry subjected to a series of hardships most significantly the result of recent droughts or inhibitting legislation.
Both Fagen and GFE continue to serve as textbook examples of corporations that have led the way, and never become content to just settle, which has positioned them better than most in terms of handling the peaks and valleys.
Since opening in 2005, GFE has upped its production capacity, decreased its water and energy usage and also improved its leverage over transportation costs, as just a few of the examples of that which has earned GFE a reputation for being one of the most innovative and efficiently run ethanol plants anywhere. Plans to invest in Isobutanol production capacity should only bolster this association, as it is expected to open GFE to markets that were previously unavailable.
Fagen Inc. has been both been groundbreaking and adaptable, setting the standard for ethanol plant design and construction before setting it all aside as ethanol production reached maximum capacity under present rules and regulations governing the ethanol market .
During the discussion Fagen told those in attendance the namesake company is again in position to the play the role of groundbreaker, thanks to a promising collaboration with DuPont in which the industrial contractor has been commissioned with the task of building the worlds first working cellulosic ethanol plant.
Page 2 of 2 - “We’re thrilled to be a part of Duponts team,” he said. “Hopefully they have the deep pockets that can make this happen.”
And yet, you can be the most innovative company in the world and still be sunk should a product get on the wrong-side of rules and regulations.
This was made evident as the the group discussed the potential impact of a new EPA director. Former director Lisa Jackson stepped down at the close of the year. Jackson was considered a strong supporter of biofuels, and ethanol supporters are hopeful that the whoever steps in will promote policies that are favorable––as emissions, and the potential costs associated with them, can vary widely depending on the industry.
The group went on to talk other potentially impactful government policies, the “blend wall” serving as perhaps the largest. E15, which would have allowed a 15 percent ethanol blend in gasoline as opposed to 10 percent looked close to getting through congress last year but has been slowed as a result of regulatory and legal hurdles cast by industry critics.
Of course, if ethanol pumps are kept from fueling stations, being able to increase the supply of product is a moot point. Welcome news from the recent piece of fiscal cliff legislation, is a tax credit that will cover 30 percent of the cost of alternative fuel vehicle refueling stations.
Taking an active approach to influence policy, industry advocates continue to fund and look for studies detailing environmental impacts, knowing well that facts and figures for a hot topic issue like water usage can completely reverse view points, and thus laws.
According to information cited by the Minnesota Bio-Fuel Associations Rudnicki, the production of a barrel of ethanol requires the use of 80 to 90 gallons of water whereas a barrel of oil he said required a relatively whopping 1,800 gallons to produce. Such a statement might make some of those increasingly concerned about future water issues fall out of there chairs.
The back and forth never went long without laughter amongst the banter. And as the meeting wound down, Fagen spoke up in his appreciation the senator’s work for both the ag and ethanol industries, in addition to her aptitude for reaching political compromise. “You have been fantastic to this industry,” he said, adding: “Amy, you’re the best!”