Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Friday, September 29, 2006


I stand corrected in regard to ownership of ethanol plants in Minnesota. A recent report from the Linder Farm Network states that 12 of the almost 20 plants in the state enjoy cooperative farmer ownership. In fact, the news line states that the ownership structure has been so positive; it is being referred to as the "Minnesota Model." More Stations: Additional information indicated that as of September 25, 291 E85 sites are operating. Statewide, E85 stations are selling an average of more than 8,500 gallons each month. The average metro station is now selling about 12,300 gallons of E85 per month, while the average rural station sells about 6,660 gallons per month. E85 averaged 49 cents per gallon LESS than the average price of 87-octane gasoline ($2.98 vs. $2.49) in August.
Less Mileage: Note: another advantage of locally produced fuels is shortened delivery of raw products. Since Minnesota is at the end of the line in regard to rail transportation; most of our commodities are trucked to port terminals such as those at Savage, Minnesota (port on the Minnesota River). Recently the ethanol plant in Lake Crystal broke a record receiving 159 semi loads of corn in one day. That is at least 100 semis that were not traveling Mn. Hwy 169 to Savage.
The Wonderful World of Chemistry!
Scientists have their work cut out for them in the development of cellulosic ethanol. The following paragraph, taken from the Linder Farm Network newsletter explains the process. CELLULOSIC ETHANOL --The first tricky step is breaking down two structural materials in the cell walls of plants - cellulose and hemicellulose - into sugar. This is usually done with enzymes excreted by genetically modified descendants of a fungus called Trichoderma reesei, which plagued the U.S. Army during World War II by causing tents and clothing to rot in South Pacific jungles.The enzymes break the cellulose into glucose, which is the same as the sugar in the kernels' starch.. Common yeast can ferment that into ethanol. But hemicellulose breaks down into a form of sugar - xylose - that yeast won't touch.To get around that, DuPont is relying on a bacterium, Zymomonas mobilis, that lives in the sap of agave plants - the source of tequila - and has been genetically modified to consume both forms of sugar.The challenge now facing molecular biologists at DuPont is to further alter the metabolism of the microbe so it can withstand the acetic acid that builds up during fermentation, with the goal of converting all of the sugars into ethanol.One acre's worth of harvested corn kernels can be converted into 432 gallons of ethanol, DuPont said. But if just half of the stalks and leaves left behind after the corn is harvested could also be turned into ethanol, the yield could be boosted by 36 percent to 586 gallons, according to DuPont researchers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Report on September 26 meeting
First Time In Thirty Years
The number thirty was used in a couple of good ways at the September 26 meeting of the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners. Mr. Robert Bruns, our county Auditor/Treasurer reported that the thirty day time period of appeal had passed and that the board authorized improvement project for County Ditch 29 (Traverse township) will be going forward. On August 22, the board of commissioners accepted the report of the viewers, and of the appointed engineer in regard to this drainage system improvement. This was an historic action as there have been no improvement projects undertaken in Nicollet County for over thirty years. No doubt many more improvements will be forthcoming as aging drainage systems will need to be brought into the 21st Century. This project has not been an easy one to get done as the action started over ten years ago and met many roadblocks along the way. With good weather, it may be possible for construction to get started this fall.
Driving Thirty Years
On Tuesday, our senior services coordinator Sylvia Perron, reported that the Nicollet County Transportation Program has been in existence for thirty years. This is a volunteer program where drivers are solicited to transport elderly and/or disabled folks to clinics, doctors, dentists, trips to grocery/pharmacy etc. (Drivers are reimbursed at the IRS rate per mile with funds coming from donations by riders and the difference is made up from county levy dollars.) In the thirty years of the program, 1,700,000 miles have been driven. There have been 116,000 round trips for a total of 135,000 hours donated. Ms. Perron is always looking for people interested in volunteering their time to drive. If you are interested call the Nicollet County Court House and ask for Sylvia Perron. The number at the Court House is 507-931-6800.
School Social Workers = Improved Student Behavior
The Nicollet County Social Services Director, Joan Tesdahl attends every meeting of the Nicollet County Board. Various members of her staff join her at each meeting. On Tuesday, we heard from the school Social Workers. We have three social workers who are funded 50/50 between the school districts and the county. Two work in the St. Peter Schools, and one works in the Nicollet School district. These folks work with students who have been identified by their classroom teachers as needing a little bit of extra attention. This early intervention approach saves money in the long term.
Sometimes It Isn’t Easy Being a Kid
Working with problems when they are small can keep them from becoming large and keep individuals out of the social services system when then reach adulthood. Some areas they work in are: social/friendship skills, anger management, grief support, family change, behavior management, crisis support, self esteem issues, academic success, and mental health needs. Today our students have to contend with divorces, drug problems, bullying, and pressures to "fit-in". Some extra help from the social workers can be a big benefit so they can then relax and concentrate on classroom work.Other activities include an after school club and a summer camp. The social workers commented that many children are affected by the war our country is engaged in. "Even if it is not their Mom or their Dad that is involved, they have friends or uncles, aunts who are serving and it affects them." end

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Region Nine Renewable Fuels Task Force
Our group met on September 20 to evaluate the September 7 E85 educational event held at Snell Motors(GMC) in Mankato. The day was a huge success with an estimated 400 people attending. Bus tours to the North Star Ethanol plant near Lake Crystal (Blue Earth County) were full. The tabulation of the pre event and post event surveys are not complete at this time; but the task force felt those attending definitely increased their knowledge of ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable fuels.
Since the inception of the Renewable Fuels Task Force; one of the goals has been to educate ourselves about renewable energy. Ethanol has been our main emphasis; but biodiesel, wind energy, and solar energy as well as others are on our agenda. This post will be a "white paper" on ethanol.
Ethanol Making America’s MidWest the New MidEast?
Ethanol is alcohol distilled from a carbohydrate source. Presently most of the ethanol is made from corn; because it is a commodity which is in good supply and the price is competitive. Ethanol can be made from any product that is a good source of carbohydrate like: sugar cane(used in Brazil), straw, switch grass, potatoes, cheese whey, and sugar beets. As I write this I am thinking it would be beneficial to the spinach farmers in California if there was a plant that could use their damaged product and make it into ethanol. As far as I know, there is none.
E85 is a fuel composed of 85% ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. It performs much like gasoline, but the fuel has a lower energy content than gasoline: a vehicle running on E85 has about 80 percent of the range of a comparable size gasoline-powered vehicle. To compensate, it is often priced lower than gasoline to partially make up for the difference. (E85 was selling for $1.69 a gallon in Mankato on September 22.) This fuel can be used in flex fuel automobiles. (To determine if you have a flex fuel automobile go to www.e85fuel.com and follow the directions. This is the website of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.)
Today there are approximately 20 ethanol plants in Minnesota that are operating or being built. (Approximately 140 nation wide.) The Minnesota Department of Agriculture website listed 17 plants and I know of two or three that are being built that were not listed. Martin County will have two plants; one is being built in Waseca County; and another getting started in Brown County. Information from the Minnesota Corn Growers states that ethanol production in Minnesota was 550 million gallons at the beginning of this year. Presently we have over 200 pumps dispensing E85 fuel in Minnesota. Minnesota has more pumps than any other state and new ones are added every week. If stations are wanting to add E85, the following are direct E85 suppliers in Minnesota as of June 2006.
Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, Deb Messis: dmennis@cvec.com or 320-843-4813
CHS, Incorporated, Sales Department 1-800 547-3835
C and N Biofuels, Mark Malecha 651-683-0223
RPMG Ethanol Marketing Tod Beers: tbeers@rpmgllc.com or 952 873-2428
VeraSun Energy Rick Eggebrecht:rick@verasun.com or 605 696-7205
Agri-Energy Lyle Rollag 507 597-6466
American Lung Association Pilot area
One of the reasons Minnesota is a leader in renewable fuels is the cooperative effort between the Minnesota Corn Growers and the American Lung Association of Minnesota and the selection of Minnesota to participate in a pilot project. The pilot project is to promote E85 and biodiesel. The work done in Minnesota has spun off to five neighboring states. The program provides help to build ethanol stations, help in off-setting costs to retailers, developing and printing promotional literature, and showing existing stations the steps to follow to put in E-85 pumps. (Go to www.CleanAirChoice.org to obtain information.)
Ethanol = Clean Air
Ethanol is an oxygenate, which simply means that it contains oxygen (35 percent). Adding oxygen to fuel results in more complete fuel combustion, reducing harmful tailpipe emissions. Ethanol also displaces the use of toxic gasoline components such as benzene and MTBE, both known carcinogens. Note: right now ethanol produced at the North Star plant at Lake Crystal is sold to California to help displace MTBE. Unlike petroleum-based fuels, ethanol is non-toxic, water soluble and quickly biodegradable. The American Lung Association views renewable fuels as the way to clean up our air. Deaths from lung disease have risen faster than any other disease in the past 10 years and the cause is air pollution from fossil fuels. Gas fueled cars will put 3 tons of pollutants in the air. Compare that with ethanol powered cars that emit none.
Quick Facts:
*Ethanol has a positive energy balance. Old studies stating the contrary are hogwash. Increased efficiency in both corn and ethanol production over the last twenty years are the two major reasons that a recent USDA study calculates that dry-mill ethanol has a positive net energy balance of 1.77. In other words, ethanol provides 77 percent more energy than it takes to produce. Contrast this to gasoline’s negative net energy balance of .81.
*There is no shortage of corn. In 2004, U.S. farmers produced a record 11.8 billion bushel corn harvest-and some 1.4 billion bushels (about 13 percent) were used in ethanol production. Remember that it is field corn, not sweet corn that is used to produce ethanol. There will be plenty of corn for livestock feed as economists project this demand as well as the export market demand to remain relatively flat in the long term. AND you might be interested to note that the amount of field corn used for human food processing such as starch, sweeteners, and cereal amounts to about 5 percent of the total corn usage. Corn demand for food processing has been flat for the last 15 years.
*Ethanol production currently utilizes only the starch portion of the kernel. The remaining protein, fat, fiber, and minerals are incorporated into distillers grains; a high-value livestock feed. These products are replacing corn in beef and dairy rations and eventually poultry and swine rations. This is a boon to the livestock industry.
*How much ethanol can be made from a bushel of corn. Presently one bushel of corn yields 2.8 gallons of E100 ethanol; 11 pounds of livestock feed; and 3 pounds of other products.
*What does it cost to make a gallon of ethanol? The cost runs around $1.50 a gallon.
*What about subsidies? Small subsidies for ethanol producers pale in comparison to the huge subsidies long enjoyed by oil companies. A study by the International Center for Technology Assessment in 1996 found that if the cost of gasoline at the pump reflected all the subsidies given to oil companies, the true cost of gasoline would be from $5.60 to $15.14 per gallon. This study was conducted when the price at the pump for regular gas was just over $1.00 a gallon.
*Who owns the ethanol plants? In Minnesota there are a couple of plants that are farmer-owned cooperatives. Most of them are privately owned. The reason for this is that it takes a lot of capital and there is a fair amount of risk involved in building and running an ethanol plant. Farmers are good at what they do - namely growing crops. They may not be the best suited to own and operate an ethanol plant.
*Exclusivity contracts between fuel distributors and gas stations limit the stations from purchasing or selling fuels from sources other than the main distributor. In New York, Governor George Pataki recently signed a law prohibiting these contracts. This will open the door for more stations to provide ethanol.
The Future is Promising
The industry is bound to enjoy increased efficiently as it ages. Scientists at Purdue have developed a process to obtain 2.85 gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn and co-products of corn oil, corn fiber, gluten and a protein used to manufacture biodegradable plastic containers. This new technology eliminates air pollutants created from drying distillers grain in the dry mill ethanol processing and sulfur dioxide odor emitted in the wet mill process. The new method reduces water input by 90 percent and wastewater output by 95 percent; electricity use by 47 percent and the total operating costs. Perdue has licensed the technology to Bio Processing Technologies Inc. It is worthwhile to note that availability of an adequate water supply is key to locating ethanol plants.
Cellulosic ethanol is in the future. This is an alternative and more efficient process than used in producing ethanol from corn. The U.S. Energy Policy Act has mandated 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2013. So far there are no plants in Minnesota using this process. However Fagen Engineering of Granite Falls which is currently building 24 of the 36 plants now under construction in the United States very likely will be designing and building the first cellulosic ethanol plant in America also. Congressman Collin Peterson has said that two celulosic plants are scheduled for Kansas and Idaho with wheat straw and switch grass as feedstocks.
Walmart Wants In
Presently Walmart is the largest seller of gasoline in the United States. Congressman Collin Peterson said that Wal-Mart wants to have E85 in at least 20 percent of the Wal-Mart Super Market stores next year with an eventual goal of 100 percent saturation nationwide. end

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

September 18 found me attending the meeting of the Minnesota River Board (MRB) in Montevideo, Minnesota. The MRB is charged with the task of coordinating the improving of water quality in the Minnesota River Basin. The organization has had its ups and downs; but things are looking up right now. We have renewed energy and the passage of the Clean Water Legacy Act by the Minnesota legislature is a small step in the right direction.

In the evening I attended the Minnesota Valley Action Council meeting in Mankato. There was good news and bad news at this meeting. The bad news is that election year politics are holding up important legislation in Washington, D.C. Examples: the Community Services Block Grant funding has not been passed; the weatherization programs, Head Start, Work Force Investment Act are waiting in limbo. If our country is to become energy independent; weatherization help for older homes would be nice. Conservation of the energy we have is very important and cost effective. The good news is that the Minnesota Valley Action Council is being pro-active and generating our own revenue stream with the operation of a thrift store. The store has been in operation for about three years and is successful.

The Nicollet County Board of Commissioners invites all to an Open House and meeting of the County Board at the newly constructed Highway Maintenance Shop in Lafayette, Minnesota. The open house is on October 10 from noon to 6:00 p.m. The dedication and board meeting will start at 1:00 p.m. (Note: this is the first time the county board has held one of our regularly scheduled meetings in a location other than the Court House.)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Driving County Roads

Disclaimer: "The views, opinions and statements expressed herein represent only those of Judy D. Hanson. They do not necessarily represent the views and opinions held by either the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners nor of Nicollet County Government as a whole."

Welcome to the weblog of Nicollet County Commissioner, Judy Hanson. (Nicollet County is a rural county in southern Minnesota with a population of 30,000.) The purpose of this blog is to share information and offer a glimpse of how county government works.
Counties are creations of the state. Counties do the work of the state of Minnesota, not in St. Paul, but in 87 different places around the state. About 65% of what counties do is to fulfill a state mandate or delegation. These mandates take the form of many different routes or roads. We are all familiar with the bituminous and gravel roads in the county. They lead us to school, church and to work. There are other types of county roads. Some roads lead our citizens to good physical and mental health; to improved infant care and better nutrition; to caring for veterans and senior citizens; or to a safe and secure place to live. One road leads to helping folks get back on their feet after unfortunate happenings. An important road leads county citizens to birth, death, and property records. People sometimes take the wrong road and our county is charged with the task of dealing humanely and fairly with them. They suffer the consequences of their actions and are offered options to help them choose the correct road in the future.
If we compare the county with a car; then the commissioners would be the driver; the employees would be the fuel and county citizens (along with the state) provide the roadmap. Come ride with me as we maneuver the roads of Nicollet County on this weblog.