Small Town Pins Economic Hopes On Ethanol And Other Renewables

<p>Mayor Al Christianson of Washburn, North Dakota, hopes to capitalize on the burst of interest in exploiting renewable, traditional, and alternative energy resources that are abundant in the Northern Plains.</p>
December 4, 2006, 2pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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"It's clear that new jobs are coming to Washburn. Next to the power plant north of town, a colossus of pipes and towering grain bins is rising from the prairie: an ethanol plant scheduled to begin turning corn into fuel in January. That has brought more than 400 construction and 40 permanent jobs. The companies running the plant are considering building another facility to convert coal to liquid fuels, which could bring more than 500 permanent jobs.

"Over the past two years, renewable energy projects that will cost more than $1 billion have been announced in the state, including five ethanol plants, three biodiesel plants and five wind farms. Oil taxes have helped to generate a $500 million state budget surplus."

"But boom has turned to bust here before. The state's population peaked at nearly 681,000 during the Great Depression, then gradually declined as North Dakota bounced through the ups and downs of agriculture and oil, and young people left the state for better jobs and warmer weather. Today, with just 637,000 people, the state is so sparsely populated that it still has a single area code. Smaller towns have been hit hardest over the years as people migrated to Bismarck, Fargo and other larger cities."

"One coal-fired ethanol plant in the works elsewhere in the state asked to buy coal from the mine near Washburn. That prompted the power plant's owner, Great River Energy of Elk River, Minn., to consider building its own ethanol plant. It sounded like a great idea to Mr. Christianson, who helps develop new businesses for Great River and by then was Washburn's mayor too."

{Note from Editor: This article will be available to non-subscribers of the Wall Street Online Journal for up to seven days}

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Published on Friday, December 1, 2006 in The Wall Street Journal
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