Ethanol plant in Gibson City ahead of schedule

GIBSON CITY – Work is moving along ahead of schedule on the ethanol plant being built here, according to its chief executive officer.

Steve Kelly, president of One Earth Energy, said Tuesday that work is under way on every section of the plant except the water treatment plant, which is currently under design. He said general contractor Fagen Inc. of Granite Falls, Minn., and its eight subcontractors have 250 employees currently working on site. Projections call for an increase to 400 workers before the plant's completion.

Contractors reported that concrete work is 75 percent complete with 12,400 yards of concrete poured. Other materials reported include 380 tons of iron, 7,000 feet of pipe and 14,000 feet of electrical wiring. Kelly said.

The $166 million project began in October 2007 and now is projected to be completed by March 2009, putting it ahead of an earlier June 2009 estimate.

A 17-month build is possible since Fagen has completed another of its ethanol plant projects in that period, Kelly said.

Kelly said the water pipeline that will run from Gibson City to Purdueville near Paxton is 10 percent complete, with about 6,000 feet of the total 68,000 feet of pipe laid. He said deep-water wells have been drilled and pumps designed for the project. The plant is expected to pump 1.7 million gallons daily.

Construction of an electrical substation will begin in August and be completed by December, Kelly said.

On the issue of the plant's profitability, Kelly said the plant would "break even if opened today." He said even at a break-even basis it would be worth operating the plant to meet cash flow needs and fulfill employment projections for 40 to 50 workers. The rising price of both ethanol and its byproducts is helping to offset corn price costs that now are $1 per bushel higher than earlier projected.

Hiring full-time employees will not occur until about six weeks before the plant's expected opening date.

Alliance Grain is one of five Central Illinois cooperatives that combined to form One Earth Energy in November 2005. Others are Fisher Farmers Grain in Dewey, Grand Prairie Alliance in Tolono, Ludlow Cooperative in Ludlow and Top Flight Grain Cooperative in Bement.

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