Plant owners seek new biofuel operation
25,000 acres of irrigated canola needed to keep facility operating
By MATTHEW WEAVER
ODESSA, Wash. -- For lease: One biodiesel plant. Ready for immediate occupancy. Must supply own canola. Terms negotiable.
The 24,000-square-foot Inland Empire Oilseeds building in Odessa, Wash., has been empty since December, when the company ceased operation and filed for bankruptcy, laying off roughly 28 employees.
The Odessa Public Development Authority, which owns the property, is looking for a new biodiesel company to move in as soon as possible, said Stacey Rasmussen, administrative assistant for the authority.
Three groups have toured the facility and expressed initial interest, Rasmussen said.
The authority owns the building, land and all equipment, said Clark Kagele, OPDA president. Businesses would lease the building under a lease-to-own agreement. Rasmussen said rent would be roughly $600,000 per year, decreasing each year on the loan repayment schedule.
The authority has similar partnerships with agriculture ventures like Seed Rite and North Basin Seed. It is building the Livestock Processors Cooperative Association slaughter facility and Barr Tech composting facility. Kagele said there have been no issues with those projects.
He said there wasn't anything the OPDA could have done to prevent the bankruptcy.
"We don't micromanage the business that moves into our buildings," he said. "It's up to them to be successful."
Under the state's Energy Freedom program, the OPDA originally borrowed $4.2 million to build the facility, said Steven Powell, former OPDA president. IEO contributed as a private partner. The OPDA still owes $3.4 million.
"It's not unusual -- any time you've got a startup industry where the state is working to support development of a new industry, there's always going to be bumps along the road, some bigger than others," said Mary Beth Lang, Washington Department of Agriculture bioenergy coordinator.
The program provides 10-year, low-interest loans to local public entities to establish energy projects.
The OPDA isn't likely to run the biodiesel plant itself, Kagele said.
If a new tenant cannot be found, the OPDA will work with the state to determine what to do with the facility.
Powell said the value of the facility is that everything is installed and ready to operate.
Powell estimated it would take 25,000 acres of irrigated canola per year to keep the plant operating as it's currently set up. The plant can crush 80 tons per day and 2,400 tons per month.
A large income source was the meal that was sold for animal feed after crushing, Kagele said.
Kagele hopes to get the same number of employees back. Some remain in the Odessa area waiting to see how the search for a new tenant proceeds, Powell said. Hiring will be up to the new tenant, Rasmussen said.
"Realistically, the only way to make money in this business is to crush as much product as possible," Kagele said.