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John M. Steiner / The Sun A large crowd attended the groundbreaking ceremony Friday for the Dakota Spirit AgEnergy plant in Spiritwood.

Breaking ground: Officials celebrate Dakota Spirit AgEnergy project

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SPIRITWOOD, N.D. -- Officials broke ground here Friday for the first grain-based ethanol plant to be constructed in the U.S. since 2007. Once completed, the $150 million plant will produce 65 million gallons of ethanol each year from 23 million bushels of corn and employ about 36 people.

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The Dakota Spirit AgEnergy project is being constructed by Great River Energy and will use steam from GRE's Spiritwood Station coal-fired generating plant for energy. Spiritwood Station was completed in 2011 but has not been brought online due to low demands for electricity in Minnesota.

"We are here to celebrate something a long time coming," said Greg Ridderbush, president of Midwest AgEnergy Group, the parent company of Dakota Spirit AgEnergy. "And it is not like every other plant in that it will purchase steam from Spiritwood Station making it the first corn-based ethanol plant to meet carbon standards."

When the ethanol plant is completed in early 2015, Spiritwood Station will also begin operations.

"This is impressive," said Sen. John Hoeven. "We are looking at the future here today. This plant combines the traditional energy of coal with renewable energy."

Gov. Jack Dalrymple called the project visionary and a great investment in North Dakota.

"Years ago we started working specifically on this kind of thing," he said. "High-value jobs based on agriculture."

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said the project overcame political challenges.

"There are people in the corners of the political world that would shut down things like this," she said. "In North Dakota we do it all. This celebrates another chapter in the North Dakota story of energy independence. We will not let someone in politics stop this kind of innovation."

Coal-fired electric plants have drawn criticism from some for carbon emissions.

The ethanol plant becomes the first tenant in the Spiritwood Energy Park Association and will utilize the SEPA rail loop which will begin construction later this fall, according to Rich Garman, engineer for GRE, speaking at the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. meeting in July. Project plans include building up the roadbed this fall with track laying planned for spring 2014.

The SEPA rail loop and energy park are a joint project of the JSDC and GRE.

Dakota Spirit AgEnergy plant construction will begin as soon as the contractor can bring in equipment. The $150 million plant will employ about 275 people during the construction phase with completion anticipated for January 2015.

Once completed, the plant will employ about 36 people and buy about 23 million bushels of corn each year, Ridderbusch said..

That increased demand for local corn could mean additional revenue for farmers in the area.

"When the Casselton ethanol plant opened it added 25 cents to corn prices in the area," Dalrymple said. "With the 23 million bushels this plant will use, that means an additional $6 million in revenue for farmers of the area. It is a true economic winning model."

Byproducts from the plant can also have an impact on other parts of the agriculture industry, according to Doug Goehring, North Dakota agriculture commissioner.

Goehring said the corn the plant will use helps maintain a demand for the crop, increasing revenues for all farmers.

"It supports other opportunities for producers," he said. "The distillers grain produced at the plant will be enough to feed about 180,000 cattle for a year."

Distillers grain is the portion of the corn seeds left after the fermentation process which is then dried and used for livestock feed.

Goehring said the Phase I portion of the project utilizes corn as the feed stock at the plant. Future phases may make use of cellulosic materials such as switch grass or specialized sugar beets, known as energy beets, as input to the plant.

"They've left some opportunities on the table," he said. "We'll see what happens in the future."

The project has become important to the entire area, Ridderbusch said.

"This has become a community project," he said. "A North Dakota project and a Stutsman County project."

Local leaders agreed.

"It is a chance to welcome people to Stutsman County under the very best of circumstances," said Mark Klose, Stutsman County Commission chairman.

Gary Riffe, JSDC president, also saw a challenge for the community.

"We want to thank GRE for the investment in our area," he said. "Our biggest challenge now is to get people here to work in the jobs that are being created."

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at knorman@jamestownsun.com

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