A proposal for the state’s first ethanol plant is the kind of industry interest Pinal County officials hope will keep it from becoming a bedroom county for the Phoenix area.
"Pinal County is eager to land as many industrial prospects as it can," said Supervisor David Snider, D-District 3 of Casa Grande, whose district includes the 45-acre area intended for the plant. "Industries moving into the area now will have cheaper land and more opportunities to get in on the ground floor of Arizona’s fastest-growing county."
The ethanol fuel production plant is proposed by a company already based in the county. Arizona Grain has grain distribution facilities in Casa Grande, Maricopa, Buckeye and Yuma.
The Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to consider an industrial use permit for the site on Thursday.
If approved, the plan goes before the county board of supervisors on Nov. 30. Construction could start by the end of the year, and production of ethanol would begin by late 2006, Arizona Grain president John Skelley said.
The Maricopa site — which can accept 100-car trains full of grain — and the fact that Pinal County’s housing boom hasn’t reached it yet, makes it conducive to an ethanol plant, Skelley added.
"We’re not right in town," he said. "We’re very close to the markets in Phoenix and Tucson, without being in those towns. We’re very close to the feed cows and dairy cows that will consume the spent distiller’s grain left after the alcohol is produced."
Ethanol, a clean-burning fuel made primarily from corn, has begun to supplement the U.S. fuel supply.
Supporters say combining it with unleaded gasoline can decrease costs, increase octane ratings and reduce harmful motor vehicle emissions. Ethanol is added seasonally to Valley gasoline supplies to help reduce air pollution.
A $12.3 billion energy bill signed this year by President Bush requires the use of 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol fuel per year by 2012. U.S. production is expected to be about 4 billion gallons by the end of this year.
The proposed $60 million plant in Pinal County would initially produce 50 million gallons a year, Skelley said.
A second phase would increase production to 100 million gallons annually.
The plant will need to take in about 18 million bushels of corn yearly to produce that much ethanol.
It will accept corn from Arizona farmers by truck and import the rest by rail, Skelley said.
The fuel would be sold mostly in Arizona and California.
A device called a thermal oxidizer would help reduce plant emissions.
"We plan to be very good neighbors to the other industrial sites and possible future homes out there," Skelley said. "There’s very little odor from these plants."