By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
The largest ethanol plant in Kansas is located in Seward County, and Conestoga Energy CEO Tom Willis attempted to set the record straight on some of the misperceptions about ethanol Thursday night in a presentation to the We the People group that met at the Mid-America Air Museum.
One of the claims against ethanol is that it will put a strain on the food supply by using corn and milo.
Willis said ethanol only extracts the starch from the corn and that cows cannot digest the starch.
“Whatever starch goes in the front end comes out the other side,” he said. “Ethanol uses the starch, which would have become high-grade fertilizer, and the cow gets the rest.”
And, the feed is sold to the cattle feeder for 85 percent of the cost of regular feed.
“The idea that we are taking food away doesn’t add up,” Willis said. “The facts don’t support it.”
Willis also said that the oil industry provided some food suppliers $20 million to fund an anti-ethanol campaign because ethanol could reduce a percentage of sales from oil.
And while some blame rising corn prices ethanol, Willis pointed out that it had little effect on the price at the store. What did have an effect, Willis said, was the shipping cost to get the product on the shelf.
According to Willis, a semi truck full of corn flakes has about $175 worth of corn. But to ship it the average 1,500 miles to the store costs more than $500.
Another misperception about ethanol was that it was using up the water supply.
Willis pointed to other industries that used more water in their production processes than ethanol.
“It takes three gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol,” Willis said. “It also takes three gallons of water to produce one pound of hamburger.”
He also refuted the claim that ethanol was a subsidized industry.
“We have not received one penny from the federal government,” he said. “We are not subsidized. Forty percent of the ethanol companies went broke in 2008. Conestoga is one of the strongest that still has debt. We mange our cash prudently.”
Between the two Conestoga plants in Liberal and Garden City, ethanol was shipped to markets in Texas, California and to foreign customers in Brazil and to Europe. The two combined for $450 million in annual sales with a payroll of $5 million.
None of those funds were government subsidies according to Willis.
In contrast, Willis pointed out that the oil industry does receive $6.5 billion in tax breaks. He also said the country had to pay $50 billion to protect oil interests in the Persian Gulf and spent $460 billion with countries that Willis said “don’t really like us.”
“Thats a huge transfer of wealth,” he said. “Imagine what spending $460 billion here would do for our country.”
He didn’t suggest that ethanol would replace oil. Willis said that ethanol would be able to provide 15 to 30 percent of the nation’s oil needs.
“Why are we buying oil from people who dont like us?” Ernie Schaffer asked. “If there’s someone I don’t like, I don’t do business with them.”
But Willis pointed out that only about a third of America’s oil need was met by American oil, and that two thirds had to come from somewhere else.
Willis also shared that Brazil was an 80 percent importer a few years ago but is now 100 percent energy independent. They did it by blending 40 percent ethanol in their fuel.