Local farmers Monday were invited to be involved in the renewable energy field, not only as producers of a crop that could be turned into a fuel, but also as owners of the power generation facility that would burn the crop to produce electricity.
The question is “are we going to be in the driver’s seat?” Randon Wilson, an attorney who specializes in forming agriculture co-ops, said. “We have to decide where we are in charge.”
Wilson told the group, gathered at the Boulevard Grange near Ontario, as members of a proposed co-op for production of biomass crops, they could own the whole process from farm to processing to generation, or they could just do a portion of it. That would include producing the biomass crop that would be turned into fuel or producing the crop and the processing facility that would turn the crop into pellets.
It would take about five months to construct a processing plant to make the pellets, Wilson said. Construction of a power plant will take 18 to 24 months, Renewable Ag Energy Inc. President Kirk Christensen said.
The meeting was hosted by representatives of Renewable Ag Energy, Inc., an Ontario company assisting a group of local farmers, Agri Energy Producers, to bring a new crop to Malheur County.
While there is more than one crop that would produce the biomass, the co-op proponents were mainly discussing high biomass sorghum.
The high biomass crops would be planted in late May. Irrigation and fertilizer applications would be similar to corn. It would be harvested in September or October. Chopped green, it would be hauled to a conversion facility, where it would be stored, dried, cubed and shipped.
Harvesting, hauling and processing costs will be absorbed by the co-op, Christensen said.
“We’re not playing the fuel market,” Christensen said.
The farmers would be paid for growing the crop and participate in the profits from the conversion plan and profits from the generation facility, he said.
“We can’t survive on just what is produced on the farm,” Wilson said. “We need more bites. We have to take a look at energy.”
It was estimated the power plant would support 17 to 20 family-wage jobs, Christensen said.
Choices include full integration, wholly owned by the farmers, or partial integration, linked with other joint ventures or investors, Wilson said. But, it becomes difficult when you mix producers and investors, Wilson said, because eventually there are tensions between the two interests.
“We would like to get the jump on creating a state-wide co-op,” he said, adding that different groups of growers could act as separate divisions.
Such a large co-op would give the producers a lot of clout, Wilson said.
“There is a significant market,” he said.
Wilson, Christensen and others were also meeting with representatives from state agencies this week to discuss the permitting processes, land-use and other regulation issues.
Larry Meyer, Argus Observer – http://www.argusobserver.com/articles/2010/02/10/news/doc4b72f4004d160870392186.txt