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Nelson power plant project moving forward

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Alex T. Paschal/SVS The Nelson Power Plant project, which now includes an ethanol component with targeted production at 100 million gallons a year, is moving ahead.

After years gathering dust, an abandoned power plant south of Nelson is set to become the first ethanol and electrical power plant in Lee County.

"From what I understand, they have finalized a (diagram) for the layout of everything. It is moving along pretty well," said John Thompson, president of the Dixon Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lee County Industrial Development Association.

There is no set date yet for completion of the project, said Joel Schroeder, project manager for Invenergy, a Chicago-based energy investment company that owns the plant.

"I wouldn't really want to comment on a timeline at this point," he said. "We are just getting an idea of our costs of moving forward."

Invenergy has applied for an air-quality permit for a 100-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant, but does not know how soon to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will respond.

"There are a number of other permits ahead of us. That is always the biggest step, getting the air permit in hand. It could take until July," Schroeder said.

Company officials have said they expect to buy 38 million bushels of local corn a year - the equivalent of nearly all the corn produced annually in Lee County. The Nelson plant joins other finished or proposed ethanol plants in Rochelle, Fulton, Princeton and Hennepin, which, once completed, will require nearly 155 million bushels of corn a year.

In 2001, the 165-acre lot at 1311 Nelson Road, south of Rock Island Road, was to become a four-turbine, gas-fired electrical power plant.

Its owner, NRG Energy, went bankrupt before the plant was finished, and Invenergy bought the site in July, citing its location, in the heart of northern Illinois corn country, and its easy access to Interstate 88 and Union Pacific rail lines.

It plans to finish two of the four unfinished turbines, Thompson said, and expand the site to include 90 more acres to the south.

It is not yet clear how many people the plant will employ, but Thompson said he expects it to be similar in size to Rochelle's ethanol plant, which opened at the end of last year and now has about 40 full-time employees.

"For an ethanol plant, you are looking at about 45 full-time jobs, and for the power plant, another 25 to 35 jobs," Schroeder said.

The Rochelle plant also runs at least 125 trucks in and out daily. A similar amount of truck traffic likely would require improvements to Nelson Road and maybe Rock Island Road, once the plant gets closer to completion.

"We would need an 80,000-pound truck route that would have to come up from Route 30 to their entrance," said Mike Stichter, Lee County engineer. "We would definitely have to do some road improvements to accommodate that."

Recent activity at the long-dormant plant has raised the curiosity of some passers-by.

"What you are seeing at this time is, they are removing some of the less-completed power plant equipment," Thompson said. "They would like to ultimately activate the other two units as the growing Midwest market demands."

Reach Andrew Walters at (815) 625-3600, (815) 284-2222 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 522.

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