Ethanol ad in Northfield News


The back page of Saturday’s Northfield News (A section) had this quarter page ethanol ad (click to enlarge) for Prairies to Power, with this by-line:

“A local coalition of YOUR NEIGHBORS who SUPPORT BRIDGEWATER’S ETHANOL PLANT.” (Upper case is not my doing.)

It then provided a link to the group’s website, where there’s only a graphic, with the byline, “WE SUPPORT THE ETHANOL INDUSTRY.”

Seems a little shadowy to me, especially when I did a WHOIS search on the domain name and see that the ownership of the domain is hidden, only traceable back to the web hosting company. Maybe the Northfield News could tell us who actually paid for the ad.

Update 7 am: I put my citizen journalism reporter hat on and phoned the number listed in the ad, 612-247-0569, thinking I’d get an answering machine at 6:45 am. But a real person answered the phone with, “Hello, Prairies to Power.” It was none other than Dave Fellon, president of Lakeville-based Progressive Rail, a company (an ESOP, like Foldcraft in Kenyon) that’s got a fairly long history of (attempted? still planned?) involvement with Northfield and its old train depot. They obviously have a financial interest in seeing the ethanol plant built, as railroad infrastructure will be a big part of it.

I chided Dave for not being more transparent with the ad and website (Progressive Rail paid for the ad), telling him that that approach is likely to raise more suspicions. I’m not sure he agreed — he didn’t disagree, anyway. I told him about our website and podcast, and asked if he’d come down to Northfield for an interview. He was quite willing, and also extended the offer of a train ride to Northfield from Lakeville. (I bet I could get Ross and Tracy to go if they could blow the train whistle a few times.)

Progressive Rail would be a key player in the future development of commuter rail here in Northfield, which coincidentally, Ross just blogged about on Friday.


  1. Tracy said:

    I have another ethanol-related update – a letter from an acquaintance of mine who’s been very involved both professionally as a farmer, and politically as an appointee on various state and federal committees. I’ll post as soon as I recover my data after my notebook’s fatal accident yesterday.

    December 5, 2006
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Oy, fatal accident? My laptop suffered one of those from a bottle of beer.

    Post the letter as soon as you can, Tracy. Have you heard how the Bridgewater zoning vote turned out last night?

    December 5, 2006
  3. I’ve been getting flyers in the mail from Praries to Power too. I’m no fan of corn ethanol to say the least, but I would like to assume there are at least some of my “neighbors” closer than Lakeville who are behind this? No?

    December 5, 2006
  4. Carol said:

    The good news to this is that you’ve published the number to reach this guy at 6:45 a.m., and perhaps we can try all sorts of other times as well.

    Who are the neighbors who support this? Neighbors, not special interests with a stake in it! Who, where, what, why, when? Seems it’d be against interest of anyone living nearby, anyone who likes to drink their well water, anyone who likes to see the stars at night, who likes to be able to sleep the night through in the countryside, and not be awakend by trains and trucks. Neighbors, indeed! Where are my barn boots, it’s getting mighty deep in here.

    December 5, 2006
  5. Ross Currier said:

    Yeah Griff, it you’d ever scan in the site plan that I was given, at the Festival of the Trees, of this proposed project, you’d be able to see the miles of track, shaped like a squarish circle, that are apparently part of the plan.

    December 6, 2006
  6. Nick Benson said:

    You might be surprised to learn that Progressive Rail is a locally owned (more or less – Lakeville’s pretty darn close) and locally operating (if you consider the large train yard in Northfield to be in Northfield) company that employs quite a few people. If (and only if) this ethanol plant doesn’t have a negative impact on the aquifer, I fully support it. So long as people’s wells don’t run dry, it seems odd that anyone in the agricultural countryside would oppose farm related infrastructure.

    While it would be fun to call a business at any hour of the night, I rather doubt that would be a productive use of anyone’s time. That’s as foolish as calling a farmer to complain about the stench of the deep material in their barn.

    December 6, 2006
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for chiming in Sean, Carol, Ross and Nick.

    I’m wondering if it would help to separate the NIMBY issues from the policy, economic development, and energy issues.

    I’m also wondering which of the negatives associated with an ethanol plant would dissipate if it was a cellulosic plant.


    FYI: Carol, I assume you were joking about the phone calls but just to clarify: IMHO, Dave Fellon was a reasonable and knowledgeable guy to talk to. He deserves civil treatment. And I will try to get him on our show.

    FYI: Ross, yes, I’ll scan that thing soon!

    December 6, 2006
  8. Nick: locally owned is fine and dandy, but I don’t care if they’re selling their organs to feed starving children — they have no business funding these ads with such little transparency.

    If (and only if) this ethanol plant doesn’t have a negative impact on the aquifer, I fully support it.

    There is no doubt it will have a negative impact on the aquifer — how negative remains to be determined. But water isn’t the the only thing to be upset about: dozens of corn-carrying trucks to add to our traffic (and it’s not exactly pleasant to cross highway three right now) every day. That aside, ethanol is as environmentally detrimental to the air as it is to water.

    December 6, 2006
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Sean, I thought the vast majority of the truck traffic will be between the plant and I-35, not through Northfield.

    And as for the air, are you talking about plant emissions or emissions from cars that run on ethanol?

    December 6, 2006
  10. Carol said:

    Truck and trains would be coming from both sides, and hello, there is no access to 35 from 8 and there is not sufficient shoulders, turning space to go alongside on 46, 46 is WAY to narrow and horrible 1′ shoulders for much of that road, not enough room to even pull a car off.

    Most likely will be from 3 going west to plant.

    And then there’s trains, lots of them. Train cars carry what, 4x a truck load, a truck load is only 48,000 lbs or so (grain trucks are lighter than reefers)

    Is Co. Rd. 8 even open to big trucks in thaw?

    what a mess

    December 6, 2006
  11. I’m not certain they’d use Hwy 3, but narrow Dundas backroads are hardly crying for more traffic either.

    And as for air — I was referring to every step of ethanol. You have the dangerous chemical pesticides sprayed on the corn. You have the gasoline-powered tractors going through the fields. As well is established, you have massive semi-trucks hauling the corn to the ethanol plant. You have the pollution from the ethanol plant. And last but certainly not least, you have the reduced efficiency in cars, which means more is consumed and more emissions are put into the air.

    December 7, 2006
  12. Nick Benson said:

    Time for the realist point of view again…

    Semi trucks have been moving grain on 46 and 8 since they’ve been built. Granted, there will now be more of them, but I’ve never, ever, in the three years that I’ve driven (almost every day) on those roads, have I ever come close to being run off of the road by a semi. It was still drivable a while ago when lots of I-35 traffic was diverted over it, and there’s no way the plant’s going to generate as much traffic as that road construction did. These aren’t chinsy gravel ruts running through the woods…

    Secondly, it’d be nice if we could stop complaining about how evil pesticides and tractors are, they’re a heck of a lot nicer to deal with than our other current alternatives – we’re not ever going to have to send thousands of troops to Iowa, or, and I know this will tug at your heartstrings, displace any more caribou and orcas in Alaska than we have to. It’d be nice if we had a “locally grown” alternative.

    Third, there’s no point in getting upset about the lack of transparency with that ad. There are dozens of groups that use cute names like that to promote agendas without revealing who they really are. Anyone ought to be able to see right through that (as Griff did) and see what’s really going on. Don’t whine about this, learn the truth and move on, that’s how things work now-a-days.

    Speaking of air pollution, from what I can find, it doesn’t look like Ethanol’s any worse than gasoline is. It’s seems rather unlikely to me that a whole lot is going to change in the immediate future with regards to how we power our vehicles. Thus, if we’re going to be polluting, we might as well be polluting with something that came from home instead of abroad. I agree that we need less pollution, but, that’s an issue that is much larger than this plant getting built, and is therefore irrelevant to this discussion.

    With regards to trains, that’s the one thing you should all be cheering about. Rail is the most efficient way to move cargo by land – it might be a little noisy, but, you knew that track was there when you decided to live by it.

    Let’s consider all of the economic benefits that will arise from this as well – people are going to have to build that plant, the infrastructure serving it, the trucks and trains that run to it, and those vehicles are going to need maintenance, and so on, and so fourth. One of the reasons Northfield is such a great town, and will continue to be for a long time, is because it has a large number of good sized employers that offer reasonably good jobs, in a reasonably diverse number of economic sectors. We’re not ever going to end up in a position where one plant leaves and the whole city hemorrhages until it eventually dies, which has happened in many, many small towns.

    A better solution might be to scrap the whole ethanol idea, and build an nuclear power plant there, where the only thing that ends up in the air is water vapor, and all of the pollution remains neatly stored in a container instead of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, I suspect that idea will run into fiercer resistance, for fear of glowing squirrels, etc.

    This concludes my 2:00 AM rant, let’s keep arguing – I’ll be back later today 🙂

    December 7, 2006
  13. Carol said:

    I make my truck traffic comments as a ten year 1,000,000 mile over-the-road trucker (meat & CA produce) and as an attorney who was present through the “committee’s” 1&46 discussion — the upgrades necessary to 1 and 46 for expected truck traffic are turn lanes and wider shoulder, that was a premise of the consultants. The traffic level for this plant would require improvements to 8 at the same level, turn lanes and shoulder. It’s not a matter of being run off the road — driving through is very different from turning on and off.

    The changes to rail are significant, of the same level necessary for Mesaba. There would be a spur and the turns take up a lot of room, and again, the increase in traffic is nothing that would have been anticipated — this is not a situation of moving to the nuisance. It’s a different use.

    I’ve heard about the beefing up the rail plans for a couple years now, that was Doug Jones’ warehouse dream, and even that was a major departure from local land use and as above, it would require the same massive rail infrastructure money, lots of land for the turns, and traffic not contemplated previously.

    This is the same as that one way out 19, I stopped and looked at it on the way to a hearing in Granite Falls. I sure wouldn’t want it in my neighborhood!

    There is a warehouse district in Northfield near the rail and electric substation and pipeline that would conform with local land use plans. This is heavy industrial, not ag.

    Ethanol plant construction is slowing, the economics are not working out and the water problems are many.

    December 7, 2006
  14. Ross Currier said:

    I just have to go back to the quote in Tracy’s excellent blog entry on the report by St. Olaf and the University of Minnesota –

    “The study concludes that biodiesel is superior to corn-based ethanol according to most criteria, stating that ethanol provides 25% more energy a gallon than is required for its production, while soybean based biodiesel generates 93% more energy.”

    Personally, I’d have a hard time arguing with a study that was produced by St. Olaf and the University of Minnesota…I have a brother-in-law and sister-in-law that went to St. Olaf and a brother-in-law that went to the University of Minnesota and Christmas Dinner is fast approaching.

    Tell me if I’m doing the math wrong but it seems to me that biodiesel produces almost four times as many gallons of energy for the energy consumed as does ethanol.

    And as I said before, I’m not a farmer but I’ve heard more than once that beans are better than corn for the quality of the soil.

    December 7, 2006
  15. Ross Currier said:

    …MAJOR OOPS, make that a brother-in-law and sister-in-law EACH for St. Olaf and the University of Minnesota!

    December 7, 2006
  16. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I have a letter in Fariibault Daily (“Bad idea’s roots run deep”) in yesterday’s Faribault Daily (Wed. Dec. 6). It explains the background of this proposal. A last minute amendment to the Rice County Ordinance by Commissioner Don Olson in 2002, passed 4-1 without discussion and public knowledge (the hearing had been done previously). It added ethanol and biodiesel plants to permitted uses in the ag zone under “ag-related commercial”. These plants are heavy industry, ordinarily in the industrial zones of municipalities.

    There were about 70 people crammed into the township hall last night, including Commissioner Jim Brown in the front row. I was sorely tempted to ask him if he recalled lining up with Olson, Plaisance and Minnick in passing that amendment in 2002. Of 27 speakers, only one was against township zoning. Four speakers were from Forest Township, lending their support for township zoning. One from Northfield read from the Cathy Larson letter on Little Prairie in Wed. paper. KYMN 1080 is carrying a report today. Listen at 5 pm if you can.

    Steve Albers was going to use his 2 minutes to present a petition against the ethanol plant signed by 24 farmers who run, altogether, about 7000 acres of land. Supervisors Ebling and Doran Norton enforced the rules of the evening (subject could be planning and zoning only) and would not allow it to be presented. It was left on the bulletin board after the meeting.

    Stephanie Henriksen (Danish spelling)

    December 7, 2006
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for that update, Stephanie.

    Do you expect that all 3, Knecht, Ebling and Doran Norton, will vote Monday in favor of taking on zoning for the township

    December 7, 2006
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    I’d rather keep the discussion here for now, Carol vs fragmenting it. Experimenting! I’m not sure what’s best, tho.

    Thanks for the Strib link. Interesting. Here’s the Science mag research report page:

    Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass
    David Tilman,1* Jason Hill,1,2 Clarence Lehman1

    Biofuels derived from low-input high-diversity (LIHD) mixtures of native grassland perennials can provide more usable energy, greater greenhouse gas reductions, and less agrichemical pollution per hectare than can corn grain ethanol or soybean biodiesel. High-diversity grasslands had increasingly higher bioenergy yields that were 238% greater than monoculture yields after a decade. LIHD biofuels are carbon negative because net ecosystem carbon dioxide sequestration (4.4 megagram hectare–1 year–1 of carbon dioxide in soil and roots) exceeds fossil carbon dioxide release during biofuel production (0.32 megagram hectare–1 year–1). Moreover, LIHD biofuels can be produced on agriculturally degraded lands and thus need to neither displace food production nor cause loss of biodiversity via habitat destruction.

    December 8, 2006
  19. Ross said:

    Hey Griff:

    After listening to the brief exchange between you and Tracy at Just Food this morning, I’ve got to say: “She’s right, you’re wrong”.

    To my way of thinking, NIMBYism is saying “I don’t want affordable housing next door to me”. Perhaps you can dismiss the two or three neighbors of the proposed enthanol plant as NIMBYites (and, even so, their opinions are as valid as anyone’s) but that’s it. Tracy’s perspective is larger than NIMBYism, in fact, it’s global. She’s saying, “Don’t destroy the earth, it’s the only one we’ve got”.

    Maybe you could try to categorize NIMBY-driven statements into a separate bucket (or “thread” , as you might call it), but I think that there are clear environmental issues that are quite different. I think that Justin’s blog, which you linked to in your comments above, details the difference. (Hey Justin, thanks for the links.)

    Then I think there are questions about a “energy return on energy investment” that are another distinctive category. I’m sure Tracy would suggest that we could evaluate various proposal from a job-creation point of view too.

    But, hey, we could probably build a podcast around this issue, eh?

    See you later,


    December 8, 2006
  20. Carol said:

    And as one who represents landowners affected by projects, NIMBY is typically a dismissive term applied to those raising concerns about whatever project is proposed, whether they live nearby or not. That their concerns would have less value due to proximity to a project is illogical, their concerns should carry more weight. Yet in my representation of landowners, I’ve also found that while those who live nearby are derisively regarded by project proposers as NIMBY, “outsiders” are also labeled and dismissed as being “merely” outsiders or “outside agitators” who have no business interfering! That whole term NIMBY ought to be ossed out. Concerns raised must be evaluated on their merits!

    Attorney for NIMBYs and Outside Agitators alike!

    December 8, 2006
  21. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Watch for Jason Hill on Almanac tonight, Dec. 8. Thanks for posting the Star Trib piece here–haven’t checked it yet. It is fairly well known now that too many ethanol plants have come in too fast and too close together. Alan Guebert’s columns in the farm newspapers help keep rural people informed. In fact, farmers are circulating them like handbills at meetings now.

    In answer to Griff’s question as to whether township supervisors will vote to proceed with township zoning at the regular monthly Bridgewater Township meeting on Monday night, Dec. 11 (7 pm), my answer is yes, I think they will.

    There was only one commenter out of 27 on Wednesday night in a roomful of about 70 people that posed the NIMBY argument. As farmers and rural residents, there will always be issues that divide us. But there are few who would condone the wholesale destruction of a whole farming community such as we are facing in response to a sales pitch like what we are hearing from “Prairies to Power.” Thanks, Ross, for checking that out.

    S. Henriksen


    December 8, 2006
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m not being dismissive with a reference to NIMBYism. If I lived out there by Stephanie or by my racquetball buddy Steve Albers, I’d probably be opposed to the plant, too.

    My point to Tracy (we were arguing in Just Foods) was that many of the arguments against the plant were based on the production of ethanol from corn. If the plant were to be based on cellulosic or mixed grasses, would everyone still be opposed? Are there no scenarios for which an ethanol plant can be supported because of trucks and groundwater, etc?

    We’re all benefitting /taking advantage of the gasoline refining that’s happening in a rural area of Dakota County (Koch / Flint Hills Refinery). Is everyone content with that status quo because it’s there and not here in Rice County?

    December 10, 2006
  23. Right now, no types of ethanol — that I’m aware of — actually produce discernibly more energy than they require to refine. If that changes, most of the environmental concerns go out the window.

    But right here, right now, ethanol — particularily corn ethanol — is a black hole for energy. And besides… not in my back yard 😉

    December 10, 2006
  24. Griff Wigley said:

    Okay, then. One petroleum refinery here in Rice County for Sean to go. Want transfat fries with that? 😉

    December 11, 2006
  25. Griff Wigley said:

    For anyone who’s a member of the Chamber, the folks from Progressive Rail will be doing a presentation on Tues morn at the Northfield Golf Club at 7:00 AM. Topic: the railroad and Advanced BioEnergy’s ethanol plant.

    December 11, 2006
  26. Griff Wigley said:

    According to KYMN Radio this morning, the Bridgewater Township Board of Supervisors voted in favor of doing their own planning and zoning last night.

    December 12, 2006
  27. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Anybody out there a member of Chamber that could attend the ABE presentation at the Golf Course on Tuesday morning and take a few notes? They are adding more “amenities” to the project all the time, can’t keep up with them.

    S. Henriksen

    December 13, 2006
  28. Steve Albers said:

    I know we in Little Priarie get accused sometimes of being NIMBYs, but I’ve met a few YOURBYs along the way who just don’t care about your back yard and some have said they were for the plant but sure wouldn’t want it across from them. Nice, huh?!

    My thing is, if we’re going to give up this much, it better be for a better reason than corn ethanol. The question keeps coming up on your site whether we would be in favor of a cellulosic ethanol plant in the neighborhood. The joke has always been, of course, that cellulosic ethanol is the technology of the future… and always will be! It does bring up a whole list of new questions of tradeoffs and benefits. I’m sure those plants too will be ugly and stinky and few will want to live or drive by them.

    Some of the benefits of cellulosic ethanol could be improved water quality with less nitrogen and sediment in our streams if feedstuffs such as mixed prairie grasses were raised on our more erodible soils (unfortunately, the new plant being built in Iowa by Broin is going to use cornstalks… not a great idea!). Also, the energy gain over fossil fuel used is only about 20% with corn but at least 80% with prairie grasses. The wildlife habitat could be unbelievable! Progressive Rail,(I mean Prairies to Power), keeps talking about the wonderful improvement to those wetlands at the proposed site out here. I know those wetlands intimately and when I mentioned them to the the guy from SWCD who walked them, he said he didn’t see much to improve as they were just about a perfect mix now, full of ducks and pheasants on the day he was there, and dumping more water in there wasn’t going to help a thing. Doesn’t Pheasants Forever, who supposedly is suppoting this venture, get how much great CRP is going to come out of the program to feed these corn ethanol plants?

    Some of the negatives of cellulosic ethanol are it still uses lots of water and it may be bulkier to haul long distances. I look at this as another possible positive as it could lend itself to smaller “community” sized plants. At the “Farming Our Fuels” conference at Gustavis in St. Peter recently, some of the speakers were suggesting the new farm bill may have incentives for smaller, farmer-owned, cellulosic plants. They recognized the advantages to a community when a plant is owned and operated by local people and not the big players and outside investors, such as those involved in this project, who don’t care about our issues but only their bottom line. Other articles lately have been saying the same thing, and when it comes to Little Prairie, size does matter!

    Of course, one of the biggest worries we have here is if indeed ethanol (especially corn ethanol) will be a long term, economically viable industry. Ag economists everywhere are warning of little return and the inevitable and imminent closing of many plants even as some are being built. A couple plants stopped building just last week as they couldn’t justify continuing with the cost of corn, lower oil prices, and projected returns. So why do we care? What happens to this plant if it runs into a similar fate. Does it sit there as a monument to our stupidity or do our officials scramble to find other uses for a huge balloon track? Is this really how we want to approach orderly growth of industry in our county and township?

    One more thing to think about. Is ethanol really the fuel of the future? GM announced last week it will be marketing an affordable hydrogen fuel cell sedan and wagon in 2010. Real cars that go 300 miles on a tankful and emit nothing but water vapor from the tailpipe. Others say new processes in diesel refining and filters make diesel have fewer emmissions than gasoline and ethanol and give much greater mileage per gallon. They say the diesel/electric hybrid will leave gasoline, and along with it ethanol, in the dust.

    Do we farmers really want to put so many eggs in the corn ethanol basket? Over and over as Bridgewater farmers have signed the petition against this plant, they have spoken of the problems we will have if this industry continues to overbuild. They worry about what we will do with all our corn when we’ve driven our livestock farmers out of business, lost our exports to other countries, and this industry fails.

    We need to all just settle down, take a deep breath, and see what happens in the next couple very critical years.

    December 18, 2006
  29. kiffi summa said:

    What is this Biz with designating people as NIMBYS on this issue?
    An ethanol plant is heavy industry; it IS a refinery!
    Do YOU want a refinery in YOUR back yard?
    Little Prairie is a community; it is virtually,no actually, an organic unit…an aggregate of human beings with a long and involved history.
    WHO would not think that should remain? Why should it be torn apart…. and that is not overly dramatic… so that a short line, or any railroad, can establish a bizsite to justify a rail line?
    Sorry, their biz goals don’t justify the “carnage” ….
    “Brother, can you spare a dime….” Send it to the poor railroad……..

    December 19, 2006
  30. Griff Wigley said:

    Steve wrote:

    Ag economists everywhere are warning of little return and the inevitable and imminent closing of many plants even as some are being built. A couple plants stopped building just last week as they couldn’t justify continuing with the cost of corn, lower oil prices, and projected returns.

    Steve, do you have a link to a news article about this? I poked around the web but couldn’t find anything.

    December 19, 2006
  31. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, I introduced the term ‘NIMBY’ here because I think it’s helpful to our overall discussion of the ethanol issue to divide it into at least two main threads:

    * pros and cons of ethanol plants in general

    * pros and cons of locating an ethanol plant in Bridgewater Township.

    And as I wrote earlier, I think it’s a dilemma for those of us (like me) who drive cars and who benefit from having the Flint Hills gasoline refinery in the back yard of our Dakota County neighbors.

    December 19, 2006
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m guessing this is what Steve Albers is referring to:

    Construction concerns stall new ethanol plants
    by Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio, December 5, 2006

    The pace of building ethanol plants is slowing after almost a year and a half of unprecedented growth. Some projects have been canceled or postponed. The major reason for the slowdown are lower gasoline prices, ethanol’s major competition. A sharp rise in corn prices and higher construction costs have also contributed to the reduced pace.

    December 19, 2006
  33. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Prairies to Power (Progressive Rail) is running a paid ad on KYMN 1080 AM, saying something like “Amy Klobuchar ran on a pro-ethanol platform and is now a new member of the Senate Ag Committee…” They say to tune in on Saturday morning (9-9:30 am) for more. I called the Klobuchar office and they are not aware of it, nor is she scheduled to speak.

    This is the heaviest PR campaign by developer interests we have known in this area. Leters to the editor, anyone?

    December 19, 2006
  34. kiffi summa said:

    OK Griff…. that may be your reason for using NIMBY, but IMHO it’s not a good enough one. These are PEOPLE and their HOMES you are talking about, and they have the good sense to be seriously questioning a project of questionable value, which is not excluding other people from having a living space [the usual use of NIMBY, re: public housing] but a project which is in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reason:profit, with a capital P.
    People/communities don’t have to have the whole nature of their environment changed for the sake of some entity’s corporate desires.
    As I said, it’s a Refinery …… YOU want one in YOUR backyard, or in your river, for that matter.
    Sometimes Minnesotans need to embrace a sense of outrage……..

    December 19, 2006
  35. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    The trip that Ross and Tracy took today on Progressive Rail–is Progressive Rail suggesting they will add a regular commuter route to the metro to sweeten the ethanol deal?

    Bridgewater Township Supervisor Gary Ebling said last night at a work session that “Prairies to Power” is gaining local supporters including Dokmo and Jim Mahacek on 19 who are now contributing to the effort. He suggests that the ethanol company itself may not be financing the PR campaign. In addition to the newspaper ads and mailings to area residents, “Prairies to Power” is running a paid ad on KYMN 1080 AM announcing a half hour program on ethanol Saturday, Dec. 23, 9 am. They supposedly bought the air time and it may become a regular Saturday call-in program.

    Anybody who is home at 9 am, please call in to the station 645-5695.

    Check NNews today Wed. for a letter to editor on ethanol.

    December 20, 2006
  36. kiffi summa said:

    Let’s just keep things in perspective re: Refineries…… I also drive a car, infact 2 cars [no, not at the same time] and I have ZERO guilt about the Flint Hills refinery [if that’s the one at 55/52] because it has been there since the area was developed as a munitions plant for the Civil War… i.e., I doubt it came into a 150 year old neighborhood, unless there was a Native American village on that site.
    I don’t buy those “guilting” comments. We are talking about NOW, with the environmental and social knowledge we have NOW, which is obviously not enopugh, but we can try to let it guide us.

    December 21, 2006
  37. Griff Wigley said:

    Stephanie wrote:

    > is Progressive Rail suggesting they will add a regular commuter route to the metro to sweeten the ethanol deal?

    Nope. When I get the audio finished from our train ride interview, you’ll hear that there’s nothing in the immediate future for commuter rail between Northfield and the metro area, let alone any quid pro quo.

    December 23, 2006
  38. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi wrote:

    > I don’t buy those “guilting” comments.

    Kiffi, I wasn’t intending to guilt anyone, just arguing that for those who drive cars, it’s not enough to just be against an ethanol plant nearby but content with an oil refinery just far enough away to not be affected by its operation.

    In other words, I can accept being opposed to the Bridgewater plant but what local alternatives would you like to see?

    December 23, 2006
  39. Steve Albers said:

    Let’s keep in mind always that corn ethanol will never contribute a meaningful amount of energy to our motoring public. Remember, the most it could contribute is two or three percent of “new energy” which is about half the energy that would be saved by raising the average mileage in this country by just one mile per gallon.

    What we need is conservation and innovative alternatives. What we don’t need is using more and more of our food and feed for fuel. What we don’t need is bringing our fragile CRP acres back into producton of corn and fouling our rivers and streams with more nitrogen and sediment. Please, there is NO NEED for more corn ethanol and should be NO GUILT for not building another plant here or elsewhere.

    December 23, 2006
  40. Mike Bull said:

    For my part, I think Griff set it up just right. I’m very supportive of developing and increasing our production and use ethanol and other biofuels, but I don’t have much to say about any plant in particular.

    I don’t think the fuel or food argument is very persuasive. What drives me in this debate is the fact (I say fact, you might say opinion) that to address either peak oil or global warming, we absolutely need to break the stranglehold that petroleum has at the retail pump, both through alternative fuels and through increased fuel efficiency. Cellulose-based fuel sources show amazing promise, but they’re still a few years away, and we absolutely cannot wait until the perfect alternative happens to come along. We’ve loosened that stranglehold just a smidge with ethanol, and we simply cannot afford to lose our momentum, or lose our resolve, or we’ll slide backwards again — petroleum will slam the door shut again, and, I think, the game’s over.

    December 23, 2006
  41. OK, color me a bit dense here, but how will burning ethanol rather than gas do anything for global warming, er… do anything to REDUCE global warming?

    Can we do our own state “CAFE” program, one from column A and one from column B, like a new car “FREEDOM FEE” (freedom from foreign oil) agressively ramping up based on fuel mileage, and for registration fees, a nominal and progressive “FREEDOM FEE (FF)” for all cars based on age and mileage, higher for low age and mileage and much lower for old and higher mileage?

    And a “CAP & FF” for all energy, cap emissions and charge a fee to plow into renewables and efficiency and conservation — an investment towards reduction of CO2 (as opposed to a “Cap & TRADE” because trade does nothing but shift production to those with the $$$ or those who can pass it on to ratepayers).

    And if anyone wants to gasify coal for fuel, sure, ja, sure go ahead, but only after you clean up the Buelah, ND synfuel plant site and water nearby, deemed a hazardous site by the NRC, and then mitigate to assure that kind of mess doesn’t happen again! That’s the kind of environmental damage I expect we’ll be finding from the ethanol plants.

    December 23, 2006
  42. Mike Bull said:

    Carol — you can color yourself however you like; it’s a free country 🙂

    According to Amory Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute and the Argonne National Lab at the University of Chicago, corn ethanol reduces carbon emissions by about 20% below gasoline.

    Here’s a good link:

    December 23, 2006
  43. Is that 20% a net considering CO2 of production?

    Christine Ziebold, MD, co-author of Price of Pollution
    lives near a coal plant in Iowa now, and they’ve told her they are burning a mixture including oat hulls and that they’re carbon neutral, using that to reduce CO2 levels. Is that possible? I once delivered rice hulls to a turkey farm, and I imagine the same might apply to any sort of hulls?

    …back to Elion Amit’s Surrebuttal testimony on Mesaba, fascinating stuff…

    December 23, 2006
  44. Mike Bull said:

    Yes, that’s an all-in field-to-wheels accounting. And it has the potential to even get better. Minnesota has three ethanol plants (CVEC in Benson, CMEC in Little Falls and Corn-Plus in Winnebago) that are reducing their overall use of fossil fuels, by using biomass to offset their natural gas use — producing the the most renewable ethanol in the country.

    December 23, 2006
  45. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Mike Bull,

    Glad you are jumping into this conversation. By the way, were you an advisor to Gov. Pawlenty on energy policy or do I have that wrong? When you say we can’t afford to “lose the momentum” you mean as long as the petroleum refineries will take the blender payments we should continue permitting more corn ethanol plants?

    According to the investment guy at my bank, advice is NOT to invest in more corn ethanol plants at this time. Profits have dropped 50% in recent weeks and are not expected to recover, so there should be a slowdown very soon. Possibly not in time to save communities like ours, though.

    But we will have the satisfaction of saying we were a part of the grand experiment to “free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil.”

    December 24, 2006
  46. Mike Bull said:

    Hi Stephanie — Yes I’m the assistant commissioner for renewable energy at the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce. I live here in Northfield, but have hesitated getting into this discussion because I don’t want to say anything that could be seen as for or against this particular proposed project — that’s not my job. But, the discussion hasn’t focused solely on the proposed project, and instead has become a debate on ethanol generally, so I thought I’d jump in with an alternative view of corn ethanol.

    There’s no question in my mind that we need to continue to make progress with corn ethanol now, and into the foreseeable future. There are wonderful opportunities developing with biomass-based fuels, etc., but those aren’t ready today, and we can’t just sit and wait for them. It’s not a grand experiment, to my way of thinking. Peak oil is a reality we need to prepare for (with both alternatives and energy efficiency) and climate change is a reality we need to address (again, with both alternative energy sources and energy efficiency). But, just to be clear — saying that we need these alternative fuel sources isn’t the same as saying that every proposed plant should be built, or that production at existing plants couldn’t be improved.

    December 28, 2006
  47. Stephanie Henriksen said:


    Our township subcommittee toured the new corn ethanol plant at Atwater on Oct. 28. Production is at 40 million gal/yr and expanding, much smaller than the one proposed for our township (100 million gal/yr).

    They had it spiffed up quite a bit, yet some of us were quite taken aback by the sound and smell, going from one process area to another. Workers did not wear face masks or ear plugs, but I think they should have. The cooldown water collection tank was murky and foaming. Not something I want discharged to Wolf Creek or pumped out into the Hatfield Swamp as proposed.

    Which plants have you toured and which ones would you recommend to the public?

    January 4, 2007
  48. Griff Wigley said:

    Mike, I’m delighted to have your participation here. Thanks for making it clear that it’s not your intent to suppport or oppose this particular proposed ethanol plant.

    I see the state has a new renewable energy web site:

    I also see you’re doing a Renewable energy forum in Rosemount on Jan. 17.

    Might that be helpful for people here in the Northfield/Bridgewater area to attend who are interested in getting better informed on ethanol-related issues?

    January 4, 2007
  49. As long-suffering Mike would testify, I’ve been known to go around the state raising energy issues at his Dog & Pony shows, and for example, it was very effective to introduce “The Face of Mesaba” at the one in Northfield with Ray Cox, a coauthor of Mesaba, last year… or was that 2005? Time flies. But I urge people to turn out because otherwise, those making decisions won’t know what we’re thinking! It’s our job as the public and as those living with the consequences of these projects, or suffering the impact of state policies, to register our opinions, ask questions, and get some measure of accountability!

    January 4, 2007
  50. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    People who attend the Mike Bull presentation Rep. Ozment is bringing to UMORE Park in Rosemount on Jan. 17 (see the link Mike sent us) will also want to attend the Jason Hill talk on biofuels at St. Olaf in Science Center 282 SC282 the next night, 7-8:30.

    Too bad we could not hear them together at the same event. We could compare and contrast the information..

    January 4, 2007
  51. Mike Bull said:

    Hi gang — Griff, that Rosemount forum was from last January! So, no one should go there on the 17th, at least not to hear me. 🙂 What the U’s doing at UMore Park is pretty cool though.

    Like Stephanie, I’d also encourage folks to go see Dr. Hill speak, and I’ll be there if I can. I’ve never heard him speak, but from what I’ve read of his recent work with David Tilman, I don’t see alot there that I’d disagree with. The biggest difference is that I’m much more pro-E85 than he is.

    January 4, 2007
  52. Griff Wigley said:

    Mike, glad you caught that. You might want to tell your webfolks to search on the word “renewable” on your Commerce site and you’ll see that that event comes up 4th in the list with a Jan. 2007 date in the sidebar.

    I also tried to find an About Us page for the Commerce commissioners and assist commissioners. No luck. Can you point us to it?

    January 4, 2007
  53. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Dave Fellon of Progressive Rail had three industry reps at our joint township/planning commission meeting last night who spoke about the need for truck/rail transport through a site such as Comus Crossing:

    l) Dave Gornak (sp) of Dave’s Sanitation telling how a municipal solid waste transfer station might work.

    2) Bill Brown who markets fly ash (waste product from coal plants) and explained how a fly ash terminal and storage silos would work.

    3) Allen Johnson of Triple Crown Services deals in containers/trailers owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad.

    Each gave lively presentations, prompted by Dave Fellon in the same style as the KYMN radio shows. None of these reps had projects for this location, but were brought in, it seemed, to continue the pressure for us to accept the ethanol plant in preferece to these even less appealing railroad add-ons.

    April 25, 2007

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