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.

63 thoughts on “Ethanol ad in Northfield News”

  1. 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.

  2. 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:

  3. 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…

  4. 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.

  5. 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.”

  6. 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.

  7. Mike,

    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?

  8. 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?

  9. 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!

  10. 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..

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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.

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