Ethanol plant considered 'crown jewel,' community hopeful

By Holly Jessen | February 21, 2012

The people of Sutherland, Neb., are very resilient, according to Larry Meyer, chairman of the Sutherland, Neb., Village Board. And, overall, they are optimistic about the chances of a restart for Midwest Renewable Energy LLC, a 28 MMgy ethanol plant located west of North Platte, Neb. “It has been and is a crown jewel of our community,” he said.

Reports are that the ethanol plant idled in mid-February, although efforts by EPM to speak to managers at the plant have been unsuccessful. Thanks to tight margins, low demand and oversupply of ethanol, several plants have either idled or slowed production in recent weeks. 

Plant leadership has been somewhat “tightlipped” about what’s happening, Meyer said, adding that the only details he’s heard has been through local media outlets. Talk is that some ethanol plant employees were retained for cleaning, maintenance and other duties while the plant sits idle. However, he added that he was troubled to hear that some employees have been laid off. “It definitely has an impact on our community,” he told EPM. “It concerns us all—those are our friends, we know people that work there.”

Not only does the ethanol plant support the local agricultural economy and provide jobs, the village of Sutherland also receives direct revenue through an electrical use agreement while the plant is operating. He estimated the village could lose out on thousands or even hundreds of thousands in revenue while the plant is not producing ethanol.

The plant has had its ups and downs, Meyer told EPM. It’s been shut down before and for long periods of time. According to the company’s website, the dry-mill ethanol plant started out as a modified wet mill constructed in 1991 by Nebraska Nutrients Inc. In April 2003 the plant, then named Nebraska Ethanol LLC, was purchased by Midwest Renewable Energy. In December 2003 the facility was stripped of all process equipment. Work to start up the plant as a dry mill began that summer and was fully completed by September 2004.

The village of Sutherland wishes the ethanol plant all the best and will do what it can to assist the company, Meyer said. He understands that it’s the nature of a commodity-based business to be cyclical and that the industry is somewhat dependent on the whim of Washington. Still, he’s hopeful about the plant’s future. “It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “We’ll come together and we’ll move on.”