This ruling is huge
EYOTA — A Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that the $133 million ethanol plant proposed for near Eyota doesn't need a full environmental study means it can go ahead as soon as economic conditions improve, said Ron Scherbring, president and CEO of MinnErgy, which wants to build it.
"It definitely means a lot to us," he said. "This ruling is huge."
It shows that the project is not going to harm the air or the water, and it removes a major potential roadblock, he said.
Those opposing the plant, however, still believe it will have major economic consequences and they are considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court, said Jim Peters of Glenwood, who is representing Olmsted County Concerned Citizens. The group will have to decide in the next few weeks on the appeal.
Group members had sought the full environmental impact statement because they believe the smaller environmental worksheet is inadequate. The group filed suit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and MinnErgy LLC after the MPCA decided that no further environmental study was required.
Olmsted County District Court Judge Joseph Chase had earlier dismissed the lawsuit, but the citizens group appealed in March.
It argued "the administrative record reveals unanswered questions and a lack of information" about the flow of ground water, amount of ground water, possible contamination of the cleaner aquifer below the one that would be tapped, effect of ground water depletion on surface waters, possible impacts from air emissions, the effect on Bear Creek, greenhouse gases and leaks or spills.
The court of appeals looked at each allegation and ruled the MPCA followed the rules and that evidence was not strong enough to require the bigger study for the plant, which would produce 75 million gallons of ethanol each year. The plant would need to drill two wells for its processing water, using several hundred million gallons of water annually.
Scherbring said the project is needed because the country is sending billions of dollars overseas to buy energy when it could produce more at home.
The next road block is economic, he said. Bankers and investors are hesitant to lend money because of the tight economy, he said. Once financing is better, the Eyota ethanol project will be ready, he said.
"We want to be one of the first projects to move forward when financing becomes available," he said. "These projects are still money makers."
There is talk of Congress cutting out federal credits that were started to help the industry, but, Scherbring said, "I'm not sure they will actually let that go."
Even without credits, his project is still viable, perhaps with alternative sources of financing. This is a long-term project, so short-term setbacks won't stop it, he said.
"We are not going down in the price of energy," Scherbring said.