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Resuscitated Biorefinery Breathes New Life into Rural Ohio Community

USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno listens as Erik Chaffer, environmental health, safety and logistics manager for Three Rivers Energy, recounts the long-hoped for reopening of the ethanol plant he helped mothball in 2008 during the Great Recession. Located in rural Coshocton County, Ohio, the plant employs nearly 40 area residents and purchases corn from local farmers. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)

USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno listens as Erik Chaffer, environmental health, safety and logistics manager for Three Rivers Energy, recounts the long-hoped for reopening of the ethanol plant he helped mothball in 2008 during the Great Recession. Located in rural Coshocton County, Ohio, the plant employs nearly 40 area residents and purchases corn from local farmers. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)

Erik Chaffer considers himself an optimist. Still, he found himself feeling pretty low as he watched the Great Recession knock the legs out from under the rural Ohio ethanol plant he helped manage.

“Everything was pretty good until July 2008. It was just a ‘perfect storm’ type of situation,” said Chaffer. “The unknown is the worst part of it. You can’t make plans for the future. It’s a very stressful, unnerving way of life.”

With 15 years of operations experience under his belt, Erik knew Coshocton Ethanol couldn’t keep battling the difficult price margins the industry was facing. One by one, the pink slips went out. As an Illinois farmer, he’d lost a ton of money when the bottom fell out of pork production in 2001. This – he said – was much worse.

“Mothballing this plant affected me a lot more emotionally and mentally. These were my friends, and they had families. It was hard to see them hurting,” said Chaffer. “But, I’d moved out here for better or worse. There were times when my faith wavered, but me and the other guys – we were down to six – tried to keep the plant in decent condition while we waited.”

USDA representatives join Three Rivers Energy employees, local and regional elected officials, and community stakeholders at a recent Ribbon Cutting and Open House for the newly refurbished and upgraded ethanol plant in rural Coshocton, Ohio. A $9 million loan guarantee through the Rural Energy for America Program is being used to renovate and improve operations at the plant, which is expected to use about 16 million bushels of primarily locally-grown corn each year. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)

USDA representatives join Three Rivers Energy employees, local and regional elected officials, and community stakeholders at a recent Ribbon Cutting and Open House for the newly refurbished and upgraded ethanol plant in rural Coshocton, Ohio. A $9 million loan guarantee through the Rural Energy for America Program is being used to renovate and improve operations at the plant, which is expected to use about 16 million bushels of primarily locally-grown corn each year. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)

The wait would last more than five years. But now – with help from a $9 million Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) loan guarantee used for plant renovations, improvements and working capital, the newly christened Three Rivers Energy Biorefinery is again producing ethanol at full capacity. What’s more, Lakeview Energy (Three Rivers’ parent company) CEO Jim Galvin says the use of new technology at the plant, including Corn Oil Extraction and “Cellunator” technology, will provide additional revenue streams and improve efficiencies.

“We went from zero to 100 literally in about a week,” Chaffer laughed. “It was stressful, but it was also a huge relief and very exciting! I was so happy to see Jim (Galvin) and Eamonn (Byrne) come in and buy the plant. I was scared to see it scrapped.”

Recently, Three Rivers Energy celebrated a year of successful biofuels production with a festive Open House at which I was privileged to speak. The company now employs nearly 40 rural Ohioans, including a handful from the old days. Three Rivers purchases a lot of locally-harvested corn and produces usable byproducts like distillers’ grain and other marketable biobased goods.

Erik thinks the future looks bright and certainly more secure. “Things do seem really positive,” he smiled. “In fact, I just bought a house. I’m going to stick around!”

Trucks line-up to cross the scales at Coshocton, Ohio’s Three Rivers Energy biofuels plant. A $9 million loan guarantee through USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program is helping renovate and improve operations at the facility, which employs about 40 rural Ohioans and is expected to use an estimated 16 million bushels of primarily locally-harvested corn each year. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)

Trucks line-up to cross the scales at Coshocton, Ohio’s Three Rivers Energy biofuels plant. A $9 million loan guarantee through USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program is helping renovate and improve operations at the facility, which employs about 40 rural Ohioans and is expected to use an estimated 16 million bushels of primarily locally-harvested corn each year. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)

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