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King highlights Iowa’s ‘Avenue of Energy’

By Staff | Nov 13, 2008


Farm News staff writer

GALVA — Thanks to ethanol, biodiesel and wind energy, Iowa’s 5th Congressional District has become the No. 1 renewable energy district in the United States, and new opportunities continue to power the region’s economy.

The above assessment was made by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who spoke recently at the new Maple River Energy facility east of Quad County Corn Processors along Highway 20, which is part of Iowa’s “Avenue of Energy” in northwest Ida County.

“This is a unique place in the world, because we’re at the epicenter of renewable energy” said King. “Most of this growth, which has become a foundation of our rural economy, has occurred in the last half decade.”

The 5th District, which roughly covers the western third of Iowa, includes 15 ethanol plants, six biodiesel plants and eight wind farms. Construction is also underway on the $27 million Maple River Energy, LLC, which includes a 3 million-bushel-per-year soybean crush plant and 5 million-gallon-per-year biodiesel production facility south of Galva.

“We’re about 60 miles away from processing plants, so 235 investors from Iowa thought it made sense to have a unique facility like this,” said Delayne Johnson, Maple River Energy’s general manager, who noted that the plant will produce approximately 75,000 tons of soy meal.

The soybean crush facility is expected to bring production in January, while the plant’s biodiesel facility is projected to begin production in April of 2009.

“I grew up about five miles north of here, and I can remember when this area was a farm field,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting to see value-added opportunities like Maple River Energy drive economic development in the area.”

Training the specialists

The knowledge base that has developed along with state-of-the-art renewable energy facilities in the 5th District is another big plus for Iowa, King said. “While there is a limit to how many ethanol plants and wind turbines we can build, there’s no limit to the knowledge and skills we can accumulate and sell to the rest of the world.”

To meet this challenge, Western Iowa Tech Community College is launching a National Boiler Training and Renewable Fuels Institute at its Sioux City campus, thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“We know that one of the renewable energy industry’s workforce challenges is a lack of training programs to educate technicians in a shorter period of time,” said Rick Moon, curriculum developer and WITCC project coordinator. “We’re looking forward to offering our boiler training program by January of 2009.”

Computer-controlled boilers are important to the renewable energy industry, because they offer a fairly energy-efficient technology that aids in the production of biodiesel and ethanol.

While many boiler operators in years past received their training in the military, this has changed now that the U.S. Navy’s vessels run on nuclear power. “There’s a big demand nationwide for boiler operators and boiler technicians, who can fix boilers and ensure they run at optimum efficiency,” said Moon, who noted that the WITCC campus in Sioux City includes a state-of-the-art live steam learning lab and secondary lab for troubleshooting exercises. “That’s why we’re also developing short courses so we can bring the training to plant employees.”

All of WITCC’s programs will stress process safety management and can be modified to fit students’ needs regarding boiler plant operation and maintenance, boiler technology, front line/first-time manager training, workplace communication, biodiesel basics, corn-based ethanol processes, lab tech and more.

The length of training is flexible, with one-day, one-week and three-week workshops and seminars available. One-year Career Skills Certificates that can be started at any time throughout the year are also being offered.

Developments like these will only help Iowa’s renewable energy industry continue to grow, said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. “We’re just scratching the surface and the sky’s the limit with renewable energy in Iowa.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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