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Local business leaders share story of ethanol with legislators

Mick Miller (left), general manager of Denco II, gave a tour of the facility to House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin (center) and Rep. Jeff Backer (right) on Friday, March 27. Miller and Denco II board members met with Peppin and Backer to discuss the local impact of ethanol. (Submitted Photo)

Correction: This story originally mistated the composition of E85 fuel. The story has been corrected to reflect that E85 is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. We apologize for the error. 

MORRIS — Local business leaders helped share the story of ethanol and its importance to the rural economy during a meeting with members of the Minnesota House of Representatives last week.

On Friday, March 27, House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin and Rep. Jeff Backer visited the Morris area to tour Denco II and, later, meet with constituents at the annual Wulf Cattle Opportunity Sale.

Backer said he invited Peppin to tour the district to better understand how ethanol works and its impact on different aspects of the agricultural economy.

"Ethanol is extremely important to the U.S. economy and our local area," said Backer. "Ag, even though it's a very small percentage of the budget, brings a lot of money into the economy and so forth."

General Manager Mick Miller said the ethanol industry's current challenge is the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal program that requires transportation fuel to contain a certain percentage of renewable fuels like ethanol.

Without a requirement to include renewable fuels, the oil industry would force ethanol producers out of the fuel market.

"That takes consumer choice away, that's going to raise pump prices — all that we're asking for is stabilization in Congress to make sure that we have a renewable fuel standard that allows us access to the market so we can grow and continue to show the impacts ethanol is having on America," Miller said.

Miller added that the food versus fuel debate over the use of corn is also misleading. Ethanol production uses about 30 to 35 percent of corn produced in the United States, while the rest is either fed to cattle or exported.

"We're not tilling up more ground to make more corn for ethanol demand — our farmers are becoming more and more efficient," said Miller.

Board member Lowell Nelson told Peppin that without ethanol, "agriculture would go in the tank."

"Agriculture is so unbelievably dependent on ethanol at this point, it's scary to think about it without it," he said.

Miller also highlighted the ways that Denco II's production process works throughout economy. Denco II was formed in 1998 and is owned by local shareholders. The plant works directly with about 275 producers to procure corn for the facility.

During the ethanol production process, about 33 percent is turned into ethanol, while another 33 percent is converted into distillers grain. This is a high protein feed that can, in turn, be fed to cattle. Approximately 65,000 tons of distillers grain is eaten by cattle in the region, Miller said.

City Manager Blaine Hill also noted the impact that Denco II has on the local community. Hill said the plant helps create jobs in the community and offers other benefits and support for local producers.

"Our county, this area, is doing very, very well in the overall scope of the economy," said Hill. "The future looks really bright, but this is a very important thing to the community.

Denco II has also partnered with local gas retailers to build the local market for E85, a fuel mixture that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Miller said that despite misinformation distributed by big oil companies, E85 is safe for and effective for vehicles.

The plant devotes about 10 percent of their production to direct sales of E85 to about 45 gas stations in the region. Thirteen of those stations close to the plant are part of a price promotion program that started in 2013. Those stations receive the ethanol at a discount from Denco II, then sell it to customers for $1 less than regular E10 fuel.

Miller said vehicles using E85 do show about 30 percent reduction in miles per gallon, but if E85 is priced competitively consumers will see a savings.

"Traditionally, they say if you're saving 30 percent at the pump, you're better off using E85," said Miller.