ethanol plant

photo contributed

ATLANTIC - Just under a year after beginning operations, Elite Octane in Atlantic will be celebrating its grand opening Friday with several state and federal officials scheduled to attend.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst; Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds; Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig are all expected to attend the event which will include tours of the plant, food provided by the Cass County Cattlemen and a program featuring comments from the guests.

President and CEO of Elite Octane Nick Bowdish, said Tuesday that the event had been put off until the plant was up and running and everything was in its place.

“We’re really excited to show off the facility and the property to everyone and celebrate officially the grand opening of our business,” Bowdish said. “I definitely like having the property all cleaned up and construction demobilized and the grass growing.”

With not quite a year of production under their belt, Bowdish says the plant has been operating as designed.

“I’m really pleased that all the major items we had planned on in the business model came together — and came together well,” he said. “The ag market is alway cyclical and its really important that every component of the project met the criteria so that in good margins we’d obviously be successful and in tight margins we’d have an opportunity to be successful.”

A lot of that credit goes to the staff, most of whom had no experience working in the industry prior to being hired in Atlantic.

“The staff has just done a terrific job. Over 90 percent of our staff had never worked at an ethanol plant prior to joining Elite Octane. So to see the results of what we are getting out of the facility and with all their hard work and with what they’ve accomplished as we close in on the first year is another reason to celebrate. I’ve got a great team that works at Elite Octane. I’m very proud of them.”

The plant is expected to employ about 50 people with an annual payroll of $3.6 million and will process around 150 million gallons of ethanol a year from about 50 million bushels of corn.

The plant can receive 140-150,000 bushels of corn per day from around 140 trucks a week and every seven days 80 railroad tankers leave the plant full of ethanol heading to refiners.

But like other aspects of the ag economy, Bowdish says officials are concerned with the effect tariffs are having on the economy.

“We tend to talk and focus a lot on the Chinese tariffs but really all tariffs have been very, very impactful,” he said. “Agriculture, ethanol, corn, soybeans, all the products.”

One thing that could have a positive impact are changes in federal law that will allow retailers to sell ethanol year-round. Those changes could be finalized as early as this week. But more importantly, he notes that federal waivers granted for small refineries allow them to delay producing certain amounts of blended fuel resulting in large stockpiles of grain less blended fuel production.

“This e-15 rule-making is a major milestone for our industry and it’s very important for the long-term growth of the ethanol industry. But I’m one that definitely likes to keep things in perspective and this rule-making in no way, shape or form makes up for the impact of tariffs or what small refinery waiver exemptions have done.”

“One thing that I think would make a lot of sense is for the president to step in here and say ok, we’re going to stay tough on China and in order to create markets for our farmers we’re going to move towards e-15 but that is just a stepping stone for higher blends. And there is no reason why we can’t process more of these massive stockpiles of grain.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to consider granting more waivers this week and Bowdish said those decisions will be a good indicator of the direction the government is going.

But he adds that support has been ongoing from all the invited guests including Ernst and Reynolds.

“They’ve been front and center leading on these policy issues,” he said.

The open house will kick off at 10 a.m. with plant tours and grilling will begin at around 11 a.m. The program is scheduled to start at noon and will last about an hour.

The public is invited attend.