Ethanol execs present facts

CURWENSVILLE – Before making a decision of any magnitude, it helps to have information on which to base that decision.

The Curwensville community heard plenty of facts and figures from Sunnyside Ethanol of Smithton, a company that wants to build an ethanol plant on the site of the former Howe’s Leather Co.

“We’re here to say here are the facts; would you like to meet further?” said Eric Wallace, CEO of Sunnyside Ethanol.

In the months leading up to a recent presentation before the Curwensville Area School Board, the community had heard many rumors about the proposed plant, from problems with smell to traffic dangers with the district’s buildings being so close by.

Wallace quieted the gossip with a slide show and a comment. “As the father of seven children, we are concerned about any of the effects (the plant) would have on any children,” he said.

The plant, if constructed, would include a $110 million ethanol plant, a $60 million power plant and a $6.5 million carbon dioxide plant. The ethanol plant is projected to make about 80 million gallons of the fuel per year, the power plant will have an output capacity of 25 megawatts, and the carbon dioxide facility will recover about 220 thousand tons of carbon dioxide per year. All of the plants combined are expected to create 60 to 70 new jobs for the Curwensville area, and that figure does not include the possibility that farmers can sell corn to the plant for use in the production of ethanol.

The process of making ethanol uses corn or other starches or sugars to create a clean-burning, high-octane fuel additive. The electricity to fuel the procedure will come from a waste coal-fired power plant. What is left after the ethanol is made is carbon dioxide, a product used to make dry ice and for carbonation in soda and beer, and distillers dry grain, a nutrient-rich livestock feed. Plans are in the works to reduce traffic to the plant by using nearby rail lines to ship goods into and out of the area near the school.

The plant does come with reservations on the behalf of some Curwensville residents. Some typical concerns Sunnyside Ethanol has faced include problems with water use, wastewater disposal, noise and smell. Each of those issues were discussed by representatives of the company and other experts in the field.

“We’re not trying to come in here and upset anybody’s apple cart. … We want to give you the facts,” said Wallace.

Those facts will be explored in the future as the state Department of Environmental Protection requires that public meetings be held before certain permits are issued. Wallace said those meetings will likely be held within 30 days.

“No one sitting at this table here this evening is against bringing jobs to the community,” Ken Veihdeffer, board president said. But, he noted that the board needed to be sure that the children of the district were not in danger with the plant being proposed on a site so close to the school.

“We want an open forum where the facts speak for themselves,” Wallace said.

“We want to make sure it’s good for the environment and not a detriment to the community and certainly not a detriment to the school.”

Wallace said the ethanol plant could be a good thing for the community, not only with the creation of jobs, but also because the construction of the plant would revitalize the site of the former tannery, an area designated as a brownfield.

Presently, the nearest ethanol plants are in Kentucky and Tennessee, a far distance from the East Coast, the area with the most demand for ethanol. An ethanol plant is under construction in Ohio.

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