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Former general links ethanol, national security at Pratt Energy speech

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, at 6:45 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, at 7 a.m.

— Former Gen. Wesley Clark, co-chairman of the national ethanol group Growth Energy, flew into town Monday to speak at the newly reopened Pratt Energy ethanol plant.

On Wednesday he’ll testify in front of the U.S. Senate Clean Air and Nuclear Safety subcommittee.

During his appearance Monday, he encouraged farmers and convenience store owners in the area to contact their congressional representatives to impress on them how important a strong ethanol industry is to national security. By producing more automobile fuel domestically, the U.S. will be less likely to intervene in the many unfriendly or unstable countries where oil is produced, he said.

The industry is still reeling from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules issued last month that proposed cutting, for the first time, the federal government’s ambitious 2007 mandate that required petroleum companies to purchase ever-increasing amounts of ethanol to blend into gasoline.

Right now, almost all automobile fuel is 10 percent ethanol. But oil companies, and several other industry groups, have lined up against the mandates, saying that raising the amount of ethanol in automobile fuel will hurt engines and raise the cost of gasoline.

“They’ve done everything they could to drag out implementation and gut the law,” Clark said.

But in an industry that worries it has hit a production ceiling and that has gotten no political traction to force petroleum companies to lift that ceiling, Pratt Energy appears determined to buck the trend.

The plant opened in 2008, then went into bankruptcy and closed in 2009. Current plant manager Jerry Schroeder said the previous owners didn’t know what they were doing. The Scoular Co. bought the facility for its grain-buying and grain-handling operation and searched for a buyer. Pratt Energy bought the plant in 2012 and spent millions renovating it. It reopened in September.

The plant buys locally and sells regionally, said Scott Anderson, national ethanol marketer for Pratt Energy. The plant consumes 65 truckloads of grain per day, half corn and half grain sorghum, from nearby counties. It produces 20 truckloads of ethanol and 45 truckloads of dried distillers grains for livestock per day. The plant’s capacity, Anderson said, is 55 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Pratt Energy sells the ethanol largely in the Wichita, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and surrounding markets.

Anderson said that ethanol sold in southern Kansas and Oklahoma used to come mostly from outside Kansas. The idea is that the plant ought to be able to outcompete those sources in the regional market.

Pratt Energy employs 34, and the Scoular Co. has a workforce of eight to 10.

Both Anderson and Schroeder – as well as the farmers – agreed wholeheartedly with Clark’s message that ethanol is good for America, as well as good for them.

“People have to understand that this is an agriculture economy and that this plant is a big part of that,” Anderson said.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danvoorhis.

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