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A million dollars a month

By Staff | Jan 17, 2011

Corn Plus, the ethanol plant in Winnebago, will be receiving a check for a million dollars every month this year.

It pays to conserve energy. Especially, if you are producing ethanol.

Corn Plus officials in Winnebago will soon receive a check in the mail for $12 million.

“It’s going to keep us financially viable for some period of time,” says Mark Drake, the plant’s general manager. “We call it money from heaven.”

The money is part of the Bush-era tax cuts extended by Congress in December.

Included in the comprehensive package was the Alternative Fuel Mixture Tax Credit.

Because the facility’s fluid-bed boiler burns?stillage — a corn syrup by-product of the ethanol process — with diesel to generate steam to operate the plant, it qualifies for the credit.

It’s not the first time the ethanol producer has earned the cash incentive. Corn Plus also received payments in 2008 and 2009, but it was suspended for 2010.

Drake says the monthly payments of $1 million are expected through this year.

“It’s great news for our shareholders. They’ll receive a portion and the rest will be reinvested into the facility,” he says.

Although installation of the fluid-bed was costly, Drake says the plant has reduced its use of natural gas by more than half. However, that hasn’t been the only benefit.

“It helps us reduce our carbon footprint on the environment and clean up the air,” he says. “We’ve done other things that have been good for the environment.”

In March 2007, Corn Plus erected two wind turbines to produce about 45 percent of the electricity the plant needs. At the same time, the use of wind power also cut the facility’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Drake, who was hired last August, says Corn Plus will continue looking for ways to become more energy self-sufficient and environmental-friendly.

“It’s nice to get economic incentives, but you can’t count on Congress. It’s just the right thing for us to do,” he says. “I ran this place for four months like we weren’t going to get any money. And, I’ll continue to do that.”

Corn Plus currently produces about 42 million gallons of ethanol a year, with a maximum capacity of 49 million. The company has some 700 shareholders.