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Rochelle ethanol plant making its own electricity



An ethanol plant in Rochelle could serve as a model for other manufacturers looking to save big on their electricity bills. 

Senator Dick Durbin toured the Illinois River Energy plant in Rochelle this week to see how they had put a million dollars in federal grants to use. He said he had heard they were generating waste heat electricity and wanted to see it first-hand.

The plant produces ethanol -- and that’s a process that generates a LOT of steam. The company used the grant to install a turbine: now instead of just releasing the high-pressure steam into the air, it’s vented through the turbine and creates electricity. Illinois River Energy CEO Richard Ruebe says it’s powerful enough to meet 25% of the plant’s electricity needs -- and the company should recoup its investment in the turbine in about three years. He says it’s much cleaner energy than electricity from coal-fired plants.

Jeff Riley is with the Pew Charitable Trust’s environment group: he says it was important to get a national policy leader like Senator Durbin inside the plant. That way, he could see for himself that they were generating 25% of their own electricity. It was no longer theoretical, but really being used by a company.

The federal program that paid for a quarter of the Rochelle plant’s turbine is over now. Riley says his organization is pushing for passage of The Smart Energy Act now: among other goals, it would require the Secretary of Energy to develop a plan to double the production of electricity from waste heat by 2020.