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County Supervisors Updated On Easy Energy Systems

By Staff | May 5, 2009

There hadn’t been much activity out of one of the businesses on the south edge of Emmetsburg of late, but all of that is about to change, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors learned last week. Officials of Easy Energy Systems and Palo Alto County Economic Development Committee Director Maureen Elbert updated the local supervisors on what was planned for Easy Energy Systems in the building they purchased from the county in 2007.

“We’ve been laying a little low,” admitted Mark Gaalswyk, Chief Executive Officer of Easy Energy. “When we first began this project, we spent a great deal of time and energy getting the financial affairs in order on this property (the former Renewable Fuels building on 461 Avenue) and doing a lot of cleanup. It was our intent to begin building small, self contained ethanol manufacturing systems in the facility.”

But then, as stories go, things changed, according to Gaalswyk.

“When corn hit $8 a bushel, we pulled in our horns,” Gaalswyk admitted. “We rented about half of the building to Montag Manufacturing, but we continued our work in the other portion of the building, and, we have been making ethanol in there. We have begun to work away from the corn ethanol concept and have branched out into specialty crops, like half cellulosic ethanol, half from other sources. We’ve even made cellulosic ethanol out of paper.”

According to Gaalswyk, Easy Energy is continuing on its concept of building a small, self-contained mini-plant, about the size of a shipping container, that an individual could put on their own farm place and produce their own ethanol product.

“We took Easy Energy public back at the first of this year,” Gaalswyk noted, “and there is a lot of interest in what we’re doing. This hasn’t been an easy process by any means. We’ve invested $3 million of our own money into this project, but we’re very excited about its future.”

When asked how the efforts of Easy Energy were going to be affected by POET’s work and upcoming construction for its cellulosic ethanol facility down the road, Gaalswyk was quick to respond.

“We see POET as a feeder plant for cellulosic ethanol. They are going to be a worldwide showplace for what can be produced through cobs and corn stover,” Gaalswyk explained. “We’re hoping that we can become a showplace for the small, individual plant that can come up with the same product.”

“That would be great,” noted Supervisor Jerry Hofstad. “Emmetsburg with a capital E – for energy.”

According to Gaalswyk, Easy Energy is obtaining more and more biology partners in its effort, which is helping the program grow. “Once you can make alcohol, which we have done in our building, you can use about anything to produce it. “We’ve been at this all along the way, but we’ve just sort of been under the covers.

Ted Kourousis, Director of Northwest Iowa Planning and Development, explained to the board members that the State of Iowa had awarded Easy Energy an Economic Development Set Aside (EDSA) grant in June of 2006 for its work, but the grant is set to expire this year. “There is a provision where Easy Energy can apply for a one-year extension, which I foresee will be no problem.

According to Kourousis, the EDSA grant is in the form of a $175,000 forgivable loan if Easy Energy meets certain target goals. The firm would have to make UCC filings as part of the EDSA provisions, as well as hire seven people to start and an additional 15 employees within the next few months in order to receive the funding as a forgivable loan.

“All of the resolutions and formalities that involve the Board and County are in order,” Kourousis said. “In fact, I think Mark and his company could probably make ethanol from all the paper work that’s been needed for this project,” which drew chuckles from those in attendance.

“Basically, we are here to let the county know that all is alive and well with Easy Energy,” Kourousis said, “and to alert you that when the EDSA funds are paid out, they will come to the county, who will then transfer them to Easy Energy. No county money will actually be involved. You will just be the dispensing authority for a state grant.

“This is a great project,” agreed Maureen Elbert. “We are very excited that this project is growing and moving. It’s been a long process, a little trying for Mark and his people at times, but I really think that when this is all said and done, we will all be very pleased with the outcome.

“Well, we’re happy to have you here,” Hofstad told Gaalswyk.

“I’m just sorry it’s taken so long to get this going,” Gaalswyk told the supervisors. “With all that the ethanol industry has gone through in the past few months, maybe the delay we had was actually a blessing in disguise for us.”