roximity to customers or suppliers is often the prime motivator in site searches involving alternative energy projects. That is the case with projects in the wind energy and biofuels sectors now under way in Nebraska. All are building on the state's vast potential for these renewable forms of energy. The American Wind Energy Association ranks Nebraska 6th among states in terms of wind energy potential. The Nebraska Energy Office estimates biodiesel production in the state will reach 30 million gallons by the end of 2007 and 60 million gallons during 2008.
There is plenty of momentum in the state's biofuels sector. Nebraska had 17 operational ethanol plants as of September, with that number estimated to grow as high as 30 by the end of 2008. Gov. Dave Heineman declared September to be Renewable Fuels Awareness Month in the state, citing biofuels as the state's fastest growing industry.
Wind Tower JV Says Hello, Columbus
Proximity to its markets was certainly a deciding location factor for Katana Summit
, which is building a wind tower manufacturing plant in Columbus, Neb. Katana Summit is a joint venture between T. Bailey, Inc.
, a Seattle-area tank construction and steel-erection specialist, and Japan-based Sumitomo Corp.
, a diverse global trading company with interests in industries including metals, transportation, chemicals and electronics. Katana opened its first wind tower manufacturing facility in Anacortes, Wash., in May.
"I was looking for a building in Nebraska, Kansas or Iowa, and I was assuming all were typically about the same as far as business climate," recalls Darrell Lehmann, Katana Summit's president and CEO. "It was a pretty unscientific method, but that's what I did. The local business development group, Loup Power, is very aggressive, and once they got wind of our needs and desires, they made everything happen as far as real estate and real estate pricing."
Lehmann says he found the right facility, a 70,000-sq.-ft. (6,503-sq.-m.) former Reliance Electric assembly plant. Katana also purchased an additional adjacent 46 acres (18.6 hectares) from Loup Power and will build two more buildings totaling 180,000 sq. ft. (16,700 sq. m.). Leh-mann says Katana will eventually manufacture 400 tubular wind towers annually at the site.
"Our decision was primarily driven by geography," Lehmann says. "We need to be close to the market. We are with our facility in the Northwest and we wanted to also be close to the market in the Midwest. That's why we were so general in our interest in the Midwest."
Lehmann says the Columbus labor force is attractive, as are the prevailing wages in the area. He says Katana will recruit and hire 100 to 120 employees and begin operations in June 2008.
NPPD Eyes Wind Farm Proposals
The nexus of Nebraska's currently installed wind capacity is six miles (9.7 km.) south of Ainsworth, where the Nebraska Public Power District operates a wind farm comprising 36 turbines, supplying 60 megawatts of power, or enough to supply 19,000 homes per year.
Beatrice Biodiesel will become operational by the end of the year. Located in the Gage County Industrial Park, it is the first phase of a planned biofuels complex.
Now, NPPD is gathering proposals for private development of up to 100 megawatts of wind-powered generation capacity with a target operational date of Dec. 31, 2008.
NPPD has received seven proposals. One proposal that has been publicized is by Midwest Wind Energy LLC
, a Chicago-based firm that wants to build a 100-megawatt wind farm in Holt County. Mike Donahue, Midwest Wind Energy's executive vice president, says he is hopeful of getting NPPD's nod for the project, an investment of approximately US$200 million. Donahue says the Holt County site is close to available transmission and a single landowner controls the entire 11,500-acre (4,654-hectare) site. The project would involve 48 wind turbines and would supply power for 35,000 homes, he says.
"We selected the site because of its excellent exposure to the surrounding terrain which provides an excellent wind resource," Donahue says. "The area's land usage is very compatible for wind turbines to be installed. We are very hopeful we can go forward. We submitted an excellent proposal and have demonstrated broad community support. All of the elements you need for a successful project are in place."
Biofuels Bastion in Beatrice
Beatrice is a town of about 13,000, approximately 100 miles (161 km.) southwest of Omaha and about 180 miles (290 km.) northwest of Kansas City.
David Blythe, founder and managing director, Beatrice Biodiesel
Agriculture dominates here, making it a logical site for biofuels development. Beatrice Biodiesel
, a homegrown firm now owned by a subsidiary of an Australian energy group, is developing what will be the largest biodiesel plant to date in the U.S. It is the first phase of a biofuels complex at the Gage County Industrial Park, which will eventually include an ethanol plant and a seed crushing operation.
Beatrice Biofuels has been in the start-up phase this fall with its full staff of 21. David Blythe, who founded the company and is now its managing director, expects the 50-million-gallon facility to be operating in November. Blythe, who lives in Lincoln, wanted to do the project in the region. Beatrice was selected for its proximity to oil seed crushers and because of incentives.
"The city of Beatrice worked with us, stepped up with an incentive program and financing and became a partner with us," Blythe says.
While parent company Agri Energy
had not made a final commitment on the proposed adjacent ethanol project by mid-September, Blythe says plans call for a $160-million investment in a facility that would employ 60.
But even as Beatrice Biofuels develops, Blythe believes the Midwest biofuels boom is due for an eventual slowdown.
"The Midwest is becoming saturated with biofuels projects and I don't think it will sustain the current growth rate," he says. "Rail access is becoming an issue, as is a supply of feedstocks."
A smaller biodiesel facility has been built by Northeast Nebraska Biodiesel
in Scribner, about 65 miles (105 km.) northwest of Omaha. This plant will eventually produce 5 million gallons of biodiesel annually.
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