$85M ethanol plant to be built in Stevens County

New site would offer at least 40 full-time jobs

By Tim Vandenack, The Hutchinson News, June 16, 2005

Add Stevens County to the list of planned ethanol plant sites in southwest Kansas.

And add Sublette to the list of locations in the state where E-85, a fuel blend containing 85 percent ethanol, can be purchased.

Orion Ethanol of Pratt announced this week it plans to build a 55-million-gallon per year ethanol plant just west of Hugoton and adjacent to the Cargill grain elevator. The company is building a plant in Pratt, which should be done by the spring of 2007, and recently announced plans to build at two sites in Oklahoma.

"We're extremely excited," Stevens County Commissioner Gary Baker said.

The plant requires 40 or more full-time employees - each earning $40,000 to $50,000 - Baker said.

Orion's plans for Stevens County have been in the works for two years, but those involved "kept it pretty close to the vest" until the various elements came together to avoid a premature announcement, Baker said.

Other ethanol plant developers in southwest Kansas have announced plans for new complexes only to see the efforts postponed for a range of reasons.

"I think we're pretty positive it's going to happen, yes," Baker said. "I think we're in good shape there."

Work on the $85 million Stevens County complex should begin by late 2006 or early 2007 and be finished by early 2008. Orion CEO Richard Jarboe said once it is finished, the firm - which potentially would be in line to receive a property tax abatement from Stevens County - is contemplating another 55-million-gallon plant at the same site.

Rising oil prices on global markets and new federal standards mandating increased use of renewable fuels - including ethanol - have prompted a flurry of interest in ethanol development. Ethanol, a clean-burning fuel additive made from corn and sorghum that can be readily produced in the United States, typically is mixed with gasoline.

Groundbreaking on an ethanol plant near Garden City took place late last month, and plans for other plants are in the works in Seward, Grant and Haskell counties.

Meanwhile, the Sublette Cooperative started offering E-85 with little fanfare last month at a Cenex station in the Haskell County town. A formal ceremony announcing the move is set for June 27.

"We are the leaders," said Terry Presley, the cooperative's petroleum manager.

Only 12 sites in Kansas offer E-85, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, and the Sublette location is the only one in the southwest section of the state. Though gas containing 10 percent ethanol is fairly common and might be used by most vehicles, E-85 is harder to find and only can be used by "flexible fuel" vehicles.

Presley said use of the fuel at the Sublette location is slow thus far, but he hopes that changes as the public becomes more aware of the benefits of ethanol. The Sublette Cenex also offers biodiesel, a mix of diesel and soy oil.

The Sublette Cooperative decided to offer E-85 because board members see it as the wave of the future, Presley said, and a means of reducing dependency on foreign oil.

"We're really going to be able to kick those foreign imports in the head," he said.

Copyright (c) 2006, The Hutchinson Publishing Co.