Change on horizon for ethanol plant

Kevin Wilson

The Portales business known until recently as High Plains Ethanol could be expanding due to a government proposal and future probability.
High Plains Ethanol was renamed Abengoa Bioenergy Corporation in April, one of many changes that should be coming to the company over the next few years.
The government proposal, a provision of a larger energy bill, would dramatically change how refiners blend gasoline and how they meet federal clean air requirements. It would require a doubling of ethanol use, to at least 5 billion gallons a year, by 2012 in what would be a boon to corn farmers.
It would also be a boon to Abengoa, which is the only ethanol producer in New Mexico. To facilitate the increased demand, expansion is likely.
Chris Standlee, the vice president and general counsel for Abengoa, said the Portales plant produces approximately 15 million gallons of ethanol annually. The goal, he said, is to put the plants’ production near the 30-40 million gallon range of other plants the worldwide corporation owns.
“It is not as economic to operate as most other facilities,” Standlee said. “You get more economies of scale from a larger facility.
“That expansion would help the long-term viability.”
Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel produced by fermenting and distilling starch crops (such as corn, barley and wheat) that are converted into sugar. The sugar is fed to microbes (germs), which produce ethanol and carbon dioxide.
The agricultural community would receive a jump-start, especially in the Midwest, if the energy bill becomes law.
New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici was one of the many senators in favor of the bill, which was approved 67-29.
Marnie Funk, the communications director for the Senate Energy Committee, said Domenici thought the provision “made sense.”
“It’s good for the environment,” Funk said, “it’s good for the driver and it’s excellent for the entire agricultural community.
“It’s a win for the environment and he cares very much about the environment.”
Opponents of the bill said refineries in California and the Northeast would be forced to pay a higher price for out-of-state ethanol, which would also increase fuel prices.
However, Standlee said the ethanol increase should actually reduce the cost for drivers. Standlee noted that for every part of ethanol that is in a gallon of gasoline, there is one less part oil — oil which the United State usually depends on foreign countries for.
“Sure, (consumers) think they’re going to have to pay more money (when a new measure comes along), but that’s just not the case,” Standlee said.
“Ethanol has been around for 25 years. Technology has improved and this is a highly-consistent quality product.”