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Friday, August 17th, 2007

Public turns out to hear ethanol details

By Timothy Cox

Mercer Energy President and CEO Ryan Schwieterman discusses his company's planne. . .

Mercer Energy officials shared new information about their proposed ethanol plant at a company-sponsored open house Thursday.
The meeting also gave project critics and some concerned neighbors a chance to ask their own questions about the project. Company officials and engineers and other experts working on the plan were also on hand to answer questions. The meeting room at Romer's Catering in Celina was packed with a mix of well-wishers, local politicians, neighbors of the proposed plant and the just plain curious.
Mercer Energy President and CEO Ryan Schwieterman told The Daily Standard that ground could be broken on the $125 million plant east of Celina by the end of this year. The exact timeline remains uncertain until the company receives its Ohio EPA air and sewer permits. Construction would take 18 months or so.
The group of farmers and businessmen that make up Mercer Energy have been working toward the project for several years.
The most common concerns raised by residents, especially neighbors of the proposed plant, were about protecting the environment and the odor around the facility.
Mercer Energy officials say the hydro-milling technique they plan to use results in fewer emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. The production technique is a trademark of AMG Inc., an industry heavyweight that has partnered with Mercer Energy.
As for the planned discharge of a portion of the plant's treated wastewater into Grand Lake, company officials said they will run a clean operation. All discharged water will be cleaner than the water in the lake and the 300 million gallons discharged annually represents less than 1 percent of the lake's total volume, they said.
Some wastewater will be pretreated and piped to Celina, other water can be reused in other processes and a lot of the plant's water use will be lost to evaporation.
Ethanol plants across the Midwest are notorious for the odors they emit. Schwieterman said the hydro-milling technique will reduce the smell, which likely will smell like popcorn. The odor should be confined mostly to the immediate area around the plant, but may vary based on prevailing winds, Schwieterman said.
"I don't intend for it to be something you can smell for miles and miles around," Schwieterman said, noting that in personal visits to similar facilities, the smell was only prevalent around the plant's perimeter.
Residents also expressed concerns about potential contamination from a spill. Ethanol storage areas will have specially designed containment areas that would keep the ethanol from reaching the ground, Schwieterman said.
As mostly farmers, Mercer Energy officials are dedicated to being good stewards of the environment, Schwieterman said.
Another common concern among neighbors is the volume of truck and train traffic at the site. Company officials expect about one train per week and daily truck traffic, which will be limited to daytime hours. No major road improvements will be necessary to accommodate the facility, Schwieterman said.
Mercer Energy's ethanol facility would be the only one of its kind in Ohio or Indiana. There were photos of a hydro-milling facility available at the open house showing the construction of the Badger State Ethanol plant in Monroe, Wisc.

Project stats:
Mercer Energy's proposed ethanol production facility by the numbers:
• $125 million investment in the plant
• $150 million estimated annual revenue
• 45 to 50 jobs on site with another 250 to 300 "spin-off" jobs in the community.
• $45,000 in average annual salaries for ethanol plant workers
• 50 million gallons of ethanol produced annually.
• 164,000 tons of feed a feed co-products that also will be produced by the plant.
• 1.5 million gallons of water would be used daily, most of it from an underground aquifer in the area.
• 72,000 gallons of Celina water that would be used daily.
• 24-7: The plant is expected to run around the clock, seven days per week.
• 1 train expected to deliver corn weekly.
• 19 million bushels of corn would be processed annually.
• 5 partners of Mercer Energy, including Fanning/Howey Associates (civil engineering), Process Plus Inc. (engineering design), Natural Resource Group Inc. (environmental consulting), Vogelbusch Inc. (ethanol processing), and AMG Inc. (hydro-milling technology).
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