By Gregg Hoffmann
SPARTA – A group planning a cooperative effort to build an ethanol plant in Sparta is undergoing a feasibility study and could be ready to take the next step by this summer.
David Rundahl, a Coon Valley family farmer, is heading a group of around 10 farmers and businessmen who are looking into a plant.
“It’s going to happen one way or another,” Rundahl said this week. “It’s a good fit for the area. It would be farmer controlled and benefit the community.”
The concept of a cooperative-run ethanol plant in Sparta got a warm reception in March at a public meeting attended by about 300 people in Bangor.
City of Sparta officials have offered 34 acres of free land for the proposed project, just east of the Century Foods International plant, Sparta City Administrator Ken Witt said at that meeting. The plant, which would make ethanol from corn, might employ 35 to 40 people.
Another 50 acres of land are available east of the proposed site if needed for future expansion, Witt told those at the March meeting.
The Sparta plant could produce 40 million gallons of ethanol a year from 15 million bushels of corn, and could cost about $80 million.
Rundahl said farmers around Sparta could provide much of the corn needed. He also said pending legislation at the state level could allow the use of corn from Minnesota.
“There is a lot of corn in the Root River area that could be brought in if Bill 193 is signed,” Rundahl said.
In addition to ethanol, the plant would produce distiller’s grain as a byproduct that would be sold as livestock feed.
Some concerns have been expressed about odors from the plant. Witt said the site is on the city’s far east side, so prevailing winds would blow any odors away, and that the latest in technology to control odors would be used in the plant.
Ray Dreger, secretary/treasurer of the new Western Wisconsin Renewable Energy Cooperative, and Jim Faust, Dunn County Extension agriculture agent, briefed the audience at the March meeting on the co-op’s ethanol plant under construction near Boyceville. That project is expected to increase local corn prices by 5 to 7 cents a bushel, Dreger said. Farmers who belong to the new co-op also will be paid dividends.
Another ethanol plant also has been discussed for the Necedah area, but details of that effort have not been released. A plant in Winona, Minnesota, is in planning stages.
“Interest is growing because of the cost of fuel,” Rundahl said. “Wisconsin is behind Minnesota and other states. We need to do some catching up.
“Corn is gold now. We can open up new markets for it. We want to do it right and make sure farmers in our area benefit from it. We think this is a good way to go.”