After over five years of sitting idle, the ethanol plant north of Pratt is almost ready to start producing ethanol again.
"We're reasonably close," said Lyle Schlyer, president of Pratt Energy, the new group that will oversee plant operations. "Maybe late August but more likely early September."
Scoular, the company that operates the grain facility at the plant, will continue in that capacity. Scoular and Calgren Renewable Fuels are partners in Pratt Energy.
"We're delighted to have Scoular as a partner. We think their grain experience is a huge advantage." Schlyer said. "Each brings something valuable to the plant."
The 55-million gallon-a-year plant last ran in the middle of February 2008 before a combination of damage from an ice storm and financial issues forced the plant to take bankruptcy.
It has taken many months to get the plant back to operating status. As expected, the renovation process ran into some unforeseen problems. They had a lot of twists and turns and will probably have more but are confident they can deal with any issues.
"With a plant that has been idle for five years, we expected a few surprises and we weren't disappointed," Schlyer said. "But they (surprises) are manageable."
Pratt Energy has made an effort to hire as many local businesses as possible to work on the plant renovation.
"We've hired a lot of local contractors," Schlyer said.
Hiring is underway for the 35 to 40 employees needed to run the ethanol plant. Many have already been hired and are currently training at an operating ethanol plant in Pixley, Calif., that Calgren Renewable Fuels owns.
The Calgren plant in Pixley looks almost identical to the Pratt facility so for the people training in California it's almost like training in Pratt.
Pratt Energy is hiring locally as much as possible for the necessary skilled and semi-skilled positions necessary for plant operation.
"We're eager to hire as many local folks as we can. The stronger the roots in the community the better," Schlyer said.
The California plant underwent some renovations to make the plant more efficient. Those same modifications were made at the Pratt plant to gain the same operating efficiency.
"We had our troubles with the plant in California but we ended up with a nice operating plant." Schlyer said. "It runs well now and this one (Pratt plant) will too," Schlyer said.
Although Schlyer did not reveal the cost to get the plant up and running, he did concede that it was a considerable amount.
"There is a substantial cost for renovation," Schlyer said.
Getting the plant back in operation will benefit the county financially. It will increase grain values for local farmers. It will increase the number of truckers coming to the area that will purchase products in the Pratt area.
Page 2 of 2 - The money local people working at the plant will spend will also multiply in the community.
"I think it's great for Pratt. They have had to wait a long time for that (financial increase)," Schlyer said. "We don't want to make them wait any longer."
Schlyer said although he has no crystal ball, he sees a rosy future for the ethanol industry.
Ethanol is a cheaper fuel component than other additives petroleum refiners need for their blend stock.
With the clean air act, ethanol has place in the future. That future is why Calgren took the financial risk to get the Pratt plant up and running and producing ethanol.
"It has lots of potential. We don't see this as short term. We think it has good long term viability," Schlyer said.