Ethanol project moving forward

Published 9:03 am Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rumors of East Coast Ethanol’s (ECE) demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Last week, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald received an e-mail from Thomas Group Capital, an Atlanta, Ga. firm doing business with ECE in an effort to find investors to help the company construct four ethanol plants in the southeastern United States, including one near Seaboard in Northampton County.

That e-mail, received last Friday, read, “As you may know, the East Coast Ethanol project is currently suspended.” It went on to cite how tough the times are right now, especially with the uncertainty in the economy.

When contacted on Friday, Northampton County officials Wayne Jenkins (County Manager) and Gary Brown (Economic Development Director) stressed they had not been contacted by ECE officials in regards to a suspension in the project.

On Monday, ECE Vice President Keith Parrish cleared-up the confusion.

“We have not suspended any of our operations,” Parrish said during a telephone call to the News-Herald. “We have suspended our relationship with Thomas Group Capital.”

Parrish stressed that all four projects, including the one in Northampton County, are moving forward.

“We’re ready to start moving dirt and constructing our new facility in Georgia,” Parrish said. “The one in South Carolina is about 30 days away from construction start-up while the one there (Northampton County) is about 60-to-90 days away. We are in the process of obtaining all the necessary permits needed in advance before we can start construction in Northampton County.”

The $212 million plant near Seaboard is expected to pump millions of dollars into the local economy. Plans call for the Northampton facility to employ 40 people.

“We want to get this project done in order to help the economy there in Northampton County,” Parrish said.

Parrish said the only downside at the current time is the struggling economy. His company is seeking loan guarantees through the federal government.

“We don’t want a hand out, we just want a hand up,” he noted. “There’s no stimulus money in the federal energy package for us, so we’re instead seeking investors as well as loan guarantees.”

The other three ECE plants are located in Chester County, SC; Wayne County, GA and Jackson County, FL. Including the Northampton facility, ECE is making an $871 million investment would make it the foremost supplier of ethanol to the Southeast U.S. market.

With its projected total production capacity of 440 million gallons of ethanol per year, ECE will become the sixth largest ethanol producer in the nation and the largest on the East Coast.

In addition to producing ethanol, each of the four plants will also produce 353,000 tons of distillers dried grains, a high-protein, high-energy animal feed supplement, which will be marketed to the dairy, beef, swine and poultry industry. In the future, carbon dioxide (CO2) produced in the manufacture of ethanol will become another source of revenue from the plant. CO2 is used in both liquid and solid forms as refrigerants and in the food industry.

ECE will need approximately 40 million bushels of corn to produce 110 million gallons of ethanol at each plant per year. To meet their production requirements, ECE will buy corn grown in the Southeast, but will have to ship in the majority of its corn from the Eastern Corn Belt.