Home-grown fuel

Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2008

JACKSON— It’s official, East Coast Ethanol (ECE) is coming to Northampton County.

On Tuesday morning, ECE officials announced they are planning to build a corn-based fuel ethanol plant on the outskirts of Seaboard. The 414-acre property earmarked for ECE is located west of the town on NC 186.

“We’ve got good synergy here to help out the ag (agriculture) economy,” said ECE Vice President D. Keith Parrish in making the announcement in the Northampton County Cooperative Extension Auditorium.

According to Parrish the $212 million ethanol plant, once opened, will provide 42 jobs to the county and have a $100 million economic impact on the area annually.

ECE officials expect to be fully funded by this December. The plant can be built in a little over a year, with operations slated to begin in 2010.

The Seaboard plant is just one part of an $871 million investment for ECE. The company also plans to construct three other ethanol facilities in the southeast in order to become a leader in ethanol production and its co-products. The other plants will be located in Chester County, SC, Wayne County, Ga. and Jackson County, Fla. Parrish said the goal was to have all four plants to come on line simultaneously.

Together the four plants will produce 440 million gallons of ethanol per year making, ECE the sixth largest ethanol producer in the country.

Parrish noted the demand for E-10 ethanol (10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline) and quoted the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration on the southeast ethanol market demand being estimated at 2.1 billion gallons a year.

When operational the Seaboard facility will produce 110 million gallons of ethanol each year and 353,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed supplement, which will be marketed to the dairy, beef, swine and poultry industries.

Parrish also spoke about the possibility of carbon dioxide (produced in the manufacture of ethanol) as becoming a source of income for the plant as it is used in both liquid and solid forms as refrigerants.

ECE officials also briefly touched on cellulose ethanol (biofuel made out of wood, grasses and the non-editable parts of plants), which is still being studied for use.

The announcement of ECE’s plans brings good news to local farmers. Parrish said ECE intends to buy as much local corn as they can in Northampton County. However, ECE will still need ship in corn from the eastern corn belt.

As for why ECE chose Northampton County to locate one of their four plants, Parrish noted many factors including Northampton County’s location near coastal port facilities.

“The NCCAR (North Carolina Center for Automotive Research) testing facility (located near Garysburg) is another big part of us coming,” said Parrish.

He also stated the current utilities (natural gas line, CSX rail line) on the property were also convenient for the plant.

Numerous elected government officials dropped by for the announcement, including Mayor Melvin Broadnax of Seaboard, the Northampton County Commissioners, Senator Ed Jones, Representative Michael Wray and U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield.

Broadnax welcomed ECE with open arms, saying he was “very excited” about the plant being near the town he presides over and ECE’s presence would make Seaboard, Northampton County and North Carolina “a better place to live and work.”

“We really do thank you,” he said.

Northampton Commission Chair Robert Carter commended county employees for their work on bringing ECE to the county.

“We are most gracious to our staff who go out and search the bushes and bring back businesses,” he said.

Wray said the planned facility was an example that local leaders have stepped up.

“We have dirt moving on NCCAR,” he said. “This is the second segment of the field of dreams.”

Jones expressed his gratitude to ECE for their decision to build a facility in the area.

“This is something that we need,” he said. “Thank you for just coming to Northampton County and selecting Northampton County.”

Butterfield referred to his work in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and how, aside from terrorism, energy is a big issue for Americans.

“We’re going to make sure this country is independent from foreign oil,” he said. “We are going to achieve energy independence.”

He noted several alternative fuels will need to be sought to solve the energy crisis, including wind, solar and bio fuels like ethanol.

Butterfield urged Northampton County to support ECE in their work.

“They’re going to need your cooperation,” he said. “I believe this (the construction of the plant) will happen in Northampton County.”