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BioTown still dependent on grid eight years later

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The town of Reynolds has one stoplight, one gas station, 533 residents, 150,000 pigs and was once touted as BioTown USA, a place where then-Gov. Mitch Daniels visited after taking office in 2005.

Daniels had set a goal of Reynolds becoming energy self-sufficient, using corn, soybeans, manure and other renewable energy sources.

Eight years later, the town 20 miles north of Lafayette is as dependent on the energy grid as it ever was — and is likely to become more so, reported the Journal & Courier. Magnetation, a Grand Rapids, Minn.-based company, announced in November it was planning to build a nearly $350 million iron ore pellet plant at the site where construction of an ethanol plant was suspended five years ago when the U.S. economy slowed.

The pellet plant will turn iron ore concentrate, mined in Minnesota and shipped by rail, into iron pellets for use in automotive steel production. It's a far cry from harvesting bioenergy.

But Daniels, who left office last month after two terms as governor, said jobs are jobs.

"Sure, there's an irony ... (but) it's not as though they're incompatible. We need the jobs, wherever they come from," he said.

The original plan for BioTown was part of a 20-year strategic plan, developed by Indiana's then-new Department of Agriculture, to harness agricultural resources for economic development.

"There was so much promise about what would happen," said Cindy Campbell, a longtime Reynolds resident. "That in a short amount of time we'd be self-sustaining. ... There'd be changes in things like our infrastructure, the maintenance of the town. It'd look more vibrant and beautiful. They were promising things we wouldn't be able to achieve any other way."

In 2005, General Motors Corp. agreed to provide 20 town residents, chosen by lottery, with flex-fuel vehicles at no charge for two years. Incentives also were offered for flex-fuel vehicle purchases, and eventually more than 150 flex-fuel cars were sold. The Reynolds BP gas station installed an E-85 tank and pump in 2006.

But the excitement surrounding the launch of BioTown died down as bigger ideas, such as the VeraSun Energy Corp. ethanol plant and other projects, stalled.

"The letdown was God-awful," longtime resident Rick Buschman said.

The state's role in the project eventually waned. Daniels, now the president of Purdue University, said the project just fizzled out.

"I'm glad we tried it," Daniels says. "Some parts of it worked fine, and others didn't pan out, which is pretty much the story, of course, of a lot of alternative energy to date."

Tristan Vance, director of Indiana's Office of Energy Development, said renewable energy still is a priority for the state.

"There are a number of types of waste or byproducts within the state that can be used to fuel bioenergy," Vance said. "This includes animal waste or wastewater treatment plants, things that aren't going away, so we know we will continue to have sources to fuel bioenergy."

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  • Worse to come
    "The letdown was God-awful," longtime resident Rick Buschman said. Curious about the days after our leaders are finally forced to publicly admit that the whole "renewable corn energy" project nets us virtually no energy, has jacked up ag land prices to unsustainable levels, and - though it would seem impossible to mess up prices more than they already are - further distorted various agricultural commodity markets worldwide, with all the instability that entails. I predict new taxpayer funded programs to prop up land prices and all the other economic rents established by the original corn ethanol mistake. That should be nice and expensive.

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