Pandemic hurts ethanol industry overall with lower production
Three Rivers Energy sign (Photo: Gannett Ohio file)
CONESVILLE – The COVID-19 pandemic had done little to help the reopening of Three Rivers Energy, although management still has hopes of restarting production soon.
The ethanol plant on County Road 271 has been closed since last October. At that time, company president Jim Galvin cited an unsure corn crop and the current political climate as the reasons. It employed about 40 people.
Galvin said the last plan was to start again in April, but the pandemic derailed plans and hurt the ethanol industry overall. He said about half of the ethanol industry shutdown in March to April with more than 20 percent of plants still idle.
This was largely due to less people driving as most states had some sort of stay at home orders and many factories halted production. Gas demand in March was down more than 40 percent from March 2019.
Additionally, many companies had to close for a time because of state mandates with most open now having to observe stricter safety and sanitation guidelines with employees wearing masks and observing frequent hand washing.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. ethanol production was about 900,000 barrels per day for the week ending June 29. This was up from 893,000 barrels the previous week, but down 179,000 barrels per day from the last week of February and down 181,000 barrels from the same week of 2019.
Galvin said they are monitoring a timeline to recommence operations at Three Rivers, but did not give a restart date.
One positive he’s seen is the corn crop should be strong this fall as many acres not planted because of weather last year have been planted this year. Galvin said this means corn should be back at normal levels. Corn crops, particularly in Northwest Ohio, were down last year due to storms and tornadoes wrecking fields and causing flooding in spring 2019.
Last year was also bad for the ethanol industry due to steep tariffs from China in response to U.S. tariffs and the Trump administration handing out waivers to oil refineries at a higher rate than in the past for the Renewable Fuel Standard. The standard is a federal mandate on blending billions of gallons of ethanol and biodiesel with the nation’s fuel supply.
Three Rivers Energy started as the Coshocton Ethanol Plant in 2008. It shutdown after 10 months. C.E. Acquisitions, a partnership of Lakeview Energy and Crestwood Energy of Illinois, acquired the biofuels refinery in 2013. It produces ethanol, distillers grains to feed livestock and corn oil. Galvin previously said they take in about 19 million bushels of corn per year and make around 55 million gallons of ethanol on average.
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