Ethanol plant set to reopen

FAIRMONT – With almost a full roster of employees, the Fairmont ethanol plant is back in business.

“We’re grinding corn at the plant, which means in the next two or three days, we will see ethanol being produced at the plant,” said Jim Stark, vice president of investor and media relations at Green Plains Renewable Energy in Omaha, Neb.

In November, Green Plains, the fourth-largest ethanol producer in North America, announced the purchase of the Fairmont plant as well as one in Wood River, Neb., for $101 million. Both plants are about the same age and had been owned by BioFuel Energy Corp. of Denver.

When BioFuel was faced with financial difficulties, it transferred the deed for the plants to its lender group, which in turn sold the sites to Green Plains. While production at the Fairmont site had been idle since September 2012, the Wood River plant was operational.

“We’ve basically hired all the employees back. About 80 percent worked there before,” Stark said. “We still have a couple of spots open.”

He estimates than 56 of 58 employees have been hired, with Jon Richardson, a previous employee, filling the slot of manager at the plant, now called Green Plains Fairmont.

“That plant can produce about 115 million gallons of ethanol annually for Green Plains,” Stark said. “By the end of January, we should be producing at capacity.”

Capacity at Green Plains Fairmont will be about 9.6 million gallons annually.

“We’re not the largest employer in Fairmont, but we’ll be a big piece of the local economy,” Stark said. “We’ll need about 40 million bushels of corn to operate throughout the year. That’s nearly 110 trucks a day, just bringing corn in.”

In addition, corn will produce livestock feed, which will be hauled out by an additional 10 to 20 trucks daily. The ethanol is shipped out via railroad.

When Stark began working for Green Plains five years ago, the ethanol producer owned four plants. With the purchase of facilities in Fairmont and Wood River, the company now owns 12, with an annual production of more than a billion gallons. Green Plains, a publicly traded company, also owns ethanol plants in Fergus Falls, purchased in 2011, and in Lakota and Superior, Iowa.