First ethanol plant workers go for training
Published: February 8, 2010
by markus schmidt
HOPEWELL, VA - As the launch of operations at Hopewell's new ethanol plant gets closer, Osage Bio Energy LLC has already hired a total of 44 employees, with nine more positions to be filled.
If everything goes as expected, the plant will open in June.
"We're running a little bit behind schedule, but we're talking just a few weeks," said John Warren, director of government relations and project management at Osage.
Warren added that Osage's goal is to be able to purchase all barley needed for ethanol production from local farmers within a 100 miles radius in two to three years.
"There is a lot of interest from local farmers and we have already confirmed a number of contracts and we have many seed sales outside of these contracts," Warren said.
The City of Hopewell considers the $150 million ethanol plant a new source of income with an expected $2.19 million in tax revenue every year. In addition to tax revenue, Osage has created a total of 55 new jobs.
"A total of 86 percent of these jobs come from the Tri-Cities, including 30 percent from Hopewell," Warren said.
"We want to prepare them for their work so they won't just come in on their first day, but we want them to be familiar with the legacy of their workplace," Warren said. Over the past 12 months, Osage faced numerous challenges with the project. Planners met resistance from some Hopewell residents and even government officials who were skeptical, especially after Osage submitted a revised air quality permit application for the construction of the plant in March 2009. The revised application came at a time that the city's air quality was under scrutiny.
Under the new permit, emissions from the plant would decrease slightly, but a separate operation involving two gas-fired boilers would add to air pollution, according to Sparky Lisle, permit writer for the state Department of Environmental Quality, who reviewed the application.
But Lisle said that the pollution increase wouldn't be a health hazard, because the plant would stay within permitted pollutant release limits.
Last fall, Osage had to deal with piles of contaminated soil construction workers uncovered on the site. Warren said that the contamination level was very low. According to the DEQ, the main type of contamination comes from the landfill and was primarily metal and concrete left in the ground.
Osage also initially faced a lack of interest in barley production from local farmers. Earlier this year, Osage launched an effort to educate local farmers about the advantages of growing barley and, recently, interest among local farmers has increased. "We're very pleased," Warren said.
Until production can be sustained from locally-grown barley, Osage will work with Perdue AgriBusiness to source barley to operate the Hopewell plant. Perdue is a leading grain supplier in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.
The ethanol plant is expected to produce 65 million gallons of ethanol and food and fuel by-products every year. The plant will use winter barley to make ethanol, which is an additive to gasoline.