Producer Spotlight : Granite Falls Energy

Interview with Steve Christensen, CEO/General Manager of Granite Falls Energy, LLC

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Q. Please tell us a bit about the history of Granite Falls Energy and a bit about the plant as it operates today?

A: Granite Falls is a dry mill ethanol plant comprised of over 900 investors.  Granite Falls Energy LLC began production in 2005 and today produces 65 million gallons of ethanol utilizing over 20 million bushels of locally grown and sourced corn . We produce distiller grains and also extract corn oil. We are located at the intersection of highway 212 and highway 23 and are served by the TC&W railway.

Granite Falls

Q. Where specifically has Granite Falls Energy made the most significant improvements in production efficiencies since the facility opened?

A: We have increased production while at the same time reducing water usage. When we initially started we used 4 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced and today we are using 2 gallons of water  per gallon of ethanol produced. A percentage of the water we use comes from collecting storm water runoff. We are also a zero discharge plant.

Q. How long have you personally worked in the ethanol industry and what is your professional background that brought you to your current position?

A. Prior to coming to GFE, I was the General Manager of Western Wisconsin Ethanol which began construction in 2005 and began producing ethanol in 2006.

Q. What do you view as the three most important things you can do as a general manager to ensure the continued success of the Granite Falls Energy facility?

A. I work to ensure that we are a low cost producer of ethanol, in a volatile commodity based business. Motivating the employees and providing them with information, training, and tools to achieve their duties. Providing an adequate return to our investors is an important goal too.

Q. Please share the impact that you feel Granite Falls Energy has on the local economy and surrounding communities?

A. We are purchasing corn from local farmers and also returning dividends to the local shareholders who have invested in the plant. Our plant provides 35 plus jobs to people living in the area, with competitive salaries and benefits. To support local businesses, we also purchase local goods and services that are used to maintain the plant, locally.

Q. How do you explain to consumers the "Food vs. Fuel" myth surrounding grain-based ethanol production? 

A: First of all we produce distillers grains which are fed to livestock that comprise 1/3 of each bushel of corn. Second the price of corn comprises a very small amount of what the consumer pays for in finished products at the grocery store.  Marketing, processing, wholesaling, distribution, and retailing account for more than 80 cents of every food dollar.

Q. What would you like consumers to know about your plant, your employees, and the products produced by the plant?

A: We provide local jobs in a rural community in a safe, environmentally responsible manner.

Q. Where are the biggest opportunities for ethanol in the next 10 years in your opinion?

A: The commitment by the government, both national and state, to support a renewable energy policy.

Q. What do you see as the biggest threats to the ethanol industry in Minnesota in the short term (next year) and in the long term?

A: Same as above - Threats to the renewable energy policy.

Q. What are your feelings on the role of the Minnesota state government and how its policies affect the state's ethanol producers? Are there policy changes you'd like to see that would greatly impact the Minnesota ethanol industry?

A: The State of Minnesota has been very supportive of ethanol. Our biggest challenge will be with regulations that affect our business and how we collaborate with policy makers  through those changes without negatively affecting our business.

Q. In your opinion, how does renewable fuels energy policy on a federal level impact what happens here in Minnesota?

A: The Renewable Fuel Standard drives what happens across the nation, not just in Minnesota   

Q. How do you see "second generation" or "advanced biofuel" technology meshing together with Minnesota's existing biofuel plants and infrastructure?

A: I think that they go hand-in-hand with current producers starting to utilize cellulosic feed stocks that can be used along with corn to produce ethanol. Cellulosic feesdstocks that may work well here in Minnesota include sugar beets and corn stover.