Boyceville ethanol plant opens a month early
West central Wisconsin now has its first operational ethanol plant.
Western Wisconsin Renewable Energy Cooperative officially opened its plant, Tuesday -- almost a month ahead of schedule.
The plant is located between Boyceville and Wheeler in Dunn County.
"We are officially accepting our first semi-truck of corn today," said Ray Dreger, WWREC's secretary and treasurer.
Even before the ribbon was cut and the first ceremonial truckload of corn from the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association was unloaded, trucks around western Wisconsin were arriving to drop off corn.
The plant is expected to purchase approximately 15 million bushes of corn annually from area farmers.
Dreger said that the corn will be ground next week and then put into fermentors for three days were it will be turned into ethanol.
The ethanol will then be stored in two 250,000-gallon tanks at the facility before being shipped by both rail and truck.
"Some of it (the ethanol) is being shipped to Duluth, some to the Twin Cities and some to southern Wisconsin," said Dreger.
The plant will employ 36 people with wages in the $15-$17 an hour range, but with benefits, the total compensation packages are in the mid-$50,000 a year range according to Dreger.
He said that the plant employees started on July 10 and were trained in plant operations at other ethanol plants and by the new plant's engineers.
Dreger said that there are still some administrative and bookkeeping type positions yet to be filled and that all hiring is done through the Dunn County Jobs Services office.
Public tours of the new plant will be during an open house being planned for Oct. 7, according to Dreger. Member owners will be able to tour the facility on Oct. 6.
Dreger said they already have their ethanol sold.
"This is certainly a good time to start an ethanol plant," Dreger said. "The market for ethanol is very strong."
Dreger added that right now WWREC just wants to get their ethanol production operation going smoothly and they have no plans to offer E85 fuel.
He noted though that it may be something they would consider in the future and that the state needs to play a role.
"The state needs to offer some type of incentives to get stations to offer E85," Dreger said. Currently there are only 40 gas stations in the Wisconsin that offer E85 fuel, according to the National Ethanol Fuel Coalition.
In the region only the Freedom Valu Center at 210 South Second Street in Hudson and the Mega Pick n' Save on Clairemont Avenue in Eau Claire are the only stations offering E85.
"The major auto companies are making a big push to produce flex-fuel vehicles (vehicles which can run on both ethanol and gasoline), but it goes back to making the fuel available," he said.
A plan pushed by Sen. Shelia Harsdorf, R-River Falls, and Sen. Ron Brown, R-Eau Claire, to require all unleaded gasoline in the state to have 10 percent ethanol failed this past legislative session because of opposition from urban lawmakers.
A proposal by Gov. Jim Doyle to give grants to gas stations to help offset the cost of adding E85 pumps also failed. Matt Canter, a Doyle spokesperson, says the governor continues to urge the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to approve the proposal.
Brady Bautch is the Internet Publisher for the RiverTown Newspaper Group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org