Northampton lands East Coast Ethanol plant

Published 4:31 pm Monday, October 13, 2008

JACKSON – Corn from the fertile fields of the Roanoke-Chowan area may soon become part of the alternative fuel craze sweeping the nation.

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, officials with East Coast Ethanol (ECE) are expected to make a major announcement concerning the location of a production facility near Seaboard. The plant, one of four planned to be built by ECE, will be capable of producing 110 million gallons of ethanol per year. Similar plants will be built in South Carolina (Chester County), Georgia (Wayne County) and Florida (Jackson County).

While Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins could not officially go on the record about the details, pending today’s official announcement, he did tell the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald that “Northampton County officials, including the board of commissioners and the economic development commission, had been in discussion with a company that desired to locate and make a significant investment here in our county.”

With its total production capacity of 440 million gallons annually, ECE will become the sixth largest ethanol producer in the United States as well as becoming the leader producer of E-10 ethanol and its co-products on the East Coast.

ECE is making an $871 million investment in its four plants, $212 million of which is earmarked for the Seaboard facility. There, the company plans to hire more than 40 employees and generate over $100 million annually to the local economy.

Plans call for construction to begin in the spring of 2009, a process expected to take 18 to 22 months. That timetable would put the Seaboard plant in operation by 2010.

According to an e-mail sent by ECE to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, their expansion plans are linked to market demand for ethanol currently outstripping supply on the East Coast. Therefore, ECE is positioning itself to fill the tremendous need of cheaper, domestically-produced fuel to drive the United States into fuel independence.

In addition to its ethanol production, each of the four plants will annually produce 353,000 tons of distillers dried grain, which is a high-protein animal supplement marketed to the dairy, beef, swine and poultry industry, and 264,000 tons of carbon dioxide for use as refrigerants and in the food industry.

To produce its fuel, ECE will need approximately 40 million bushels of corn annually at each plant. While ECE expects to purchase corn grown in the southeastern states, the company will transport in the majority of its corn by rail or truck from the Eastern Corn Belt, comprised of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Another item of local interest in regards to the plant is that ECE plans to use wood-fired boilers that burn bio-mass products (wood chips, wood waste, etc.), items that are readily available in northeastern North Carolina and throughout the southeastern United States.

Tuesday’s official announcement will come at the Northampton County Cooperative Extension Service Auditorium located at the Faison Administrative Building on NC 305 north of Jackson.

In July, the Northampton Board of Commissioners approved the rezoning of two parcels of land containing a combined 407 acres from light industrial to heavy industrial. That land sits along NC 186 near the town of Seaboard.

The rezoning increased the buffer for the parcels so that any industry located there would need a 200 foot buffer between the subject property and any adjoining parcel.

In September, the commissioners approved a resolution that endorses the application of ECE requesting financial support from the Department of Transportation to assist in funding construction of a rail industrial access track to serve that newly rezone acreage.