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BLOOMINGTON - Five years ago, some Central Illinois corn growers hatched a plan. They envisioned using their grain to make fuel ethanol.

What's more, they wanted control of the ethanol processing plant to directly capture the value added to their bushels of corn.

Illini Bio-Energy was born. Since then, the group altered its business plan from a cooperative structure to a limited liability corporation " a move that slowed the process somewhat.

But the most time consuming issues remain raising capital, locating a suitable site, securing zoning changes and obtaining a variety of permits.

Recently, Illini Bio-Energy received Logan County Board approval to rezone 220 acres northwest of Hartsburg from agriculture to manufacturing. Organizers expect to have a 50-million gallon plant running next year. It will be the state's first coal-fired ethanol plant.

Illini Bio-Energy organizers know all the twists and turns required to build an ethanol plant. They could not talk to The Pantagraph for this story because of Security Exchange Commission rules governing quiet periods in forming limited liability corporations.

Illinois Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency officials also recognize the lengthy process of ethanol plant construction.

Their vision became even clearer last summer when the federal renewable fuels standard were signed into law. The standard will likely cause U.S. ethanol production to double: As many as 90 plants may be needed to meet demand.

And state government officials want at least some of those plants in Illinois. The state currently has six ethanol plants with another dozen in the works. So, IDA, IEPA and Illinois Commerce and Economic Opportunity officials created a new guidebook that could trim a couple of years from the construction process.

The book, "How to Build an Ethanol Plant in Illinois," lists all federal, state and local permits that may be required. The list numbers more than 20.

The guidebook further provides details about plant siting factors, best operating practices and grants and other funding sources.

"This is a perfect place for the plants because of the raw product (corn), transportation and labor," said Chuck Hartke, Illinois agriculture director.

"Illinois produces 900 million gallons of ethanol. By 2012, we'll need 8 billion gallons. We want half of that to come out of Illinois."

IEPA Director Doug Scott noted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's energy plan focuses on creating a full cycle of ethanol production to gas stations to consumers.

Keeping ethanol production close to distributors and fuel stations should curb costs, Scott added.

"Ethanol has some long-term environmental benefits for clean air and health," he said. "We think the guidelines could be completed in two years. We want to build plants right the first time. If we can answer all the public's questions about plant emissions and water use, we defuse arguments about plants. We also think people want this fuel. Building ethanol plants can help communities by providing jobs."

The Illini Bio-Energy plant is expected to employ 38 to 45 people with annual salaries of $30,000 to $65,000. The plant should generate $1.2 million annually in state and local taxes.

Illinois offers grants to ethanol plants, for installing E-85 retail pumps and rebates for using E-85 fuel that contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Two years ago, the governor granted a sales tax exemption for ethanol. To obtain the guidebook, call DCEO at (217) 785-3969.


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