Progress remains slow on BioTown energy project

BIOTOWN USA, INDIANA - State and local officials say they aren't giving up on the BioTown USA project, even though progress has been slow toward its goal of making the farming town the first U.S. community to meet all electricity and gas needs through renewable energy.

Construction work has yet to begin on a facility that will convert manure methane into electricity, even though project leaders last spring had hoped to have it producing power by the end of December.

Vectren Corp. subsidiary Energy Systems Group has planned to spend about $10 million on the anaeorbic digester, anticipating that construction was to have started in August. That was to be a highlight of the BioTown project announced in 2005 by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

But ESG continues to wait on a final permit to clear the way for work to begin, said John Heimlich, president of the Biotown Development Authority.

When the weather turned colder this fall and all the required permits were not yet in hand, hopes faded for quick construction in the town about 25 miles north of Lafayette.

"Now we're looking to start construction in the spring," state Agriculture Department spokeswoman Deborah Abbott told the Journal & Courier of Lafayette.

The community lost another high-profile project when VeraSun Energy Inc. in late 2007 put its plans for a 110-million gallon ethanol plant on hold, citing unfavorable market conditions. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last fall.

VeraSun "is not part of the original BioTown concept," Abbott said, and the company's issues are having no effect on the project.

"BioTown is not slowing down," she said.

Shortly after Daniels' 2005 announcement, a random drawing gave 20 town residents free two-year leases on flex-fuel General Motors vehicles. GM also gave special incentives to local residents to buy flex-fuel vehicles, and more than 150 were sold.

In September 2006, the town's first E85 fuel pump was dedicated at the town's sole gas station.

Heimlich, who lives in Reynolds, said it was natural for residents to be skeptical with the pace of work on the project since then.

"I think a lot of people are taking a wait-and-see attitude," Heimlich said. "But when construction on the digester starts, I'll think you'll see renewed interest."


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