CE&P gets county approval for renewable fuel, power project

By Erin Voegele | September 17, 2013

A renewable energy project in California that will produce advanced ethanol, renewable power and pipeline-quality biogas is one step closer to fruition. On Sept. 10, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted to approve seven resolutions related to permitting, zoning, water other issues for the project, which is under development by California Ethanol & Power LLC

David Rubenstein, chief operating officer of CE&P, called the board’s action the “last of the permitting hurdles.” The project is currently expected to break ground during the next three or four months, with operations beginning approximately two years later. Once complete, the plant will have the annual capacity to produce 66 million gallons of sugarcane- and sweet sorghum-based ethanol, 49.9 MW of renewable electricity and 940 million cubic feet of biogas.

The project was first initiated in 2007, but was delayed by the recession. According to Rubenstein, CE&P was able to get the project back in gear approximately 18 months ago.

The ethanol plant will feature off-the-shelf Brazilian technology that is adapted to meet California’s stringent clean air and water standards. Uni-systems do Brazil Ltda has been brought on as CE&P’s lead engineer and procurement contractor. In a presentation to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, Rubenstein noted that Uni-systems is contributing nearly $670 million in financing to the project. He also told Biomass Magazine that CP&E is currently working to raise the final $1 million in developing financing, which will primarily support the company’s agricultural expansion.

CP&E is working with local farmers to produce sugarcane and sweet sorghum feedstocks under a contracting arrangement. The growers are paid rent and a guaranteed profit, and CE&P will plant and harvest the sorghum. “We have seed cane growing agreements now,” Rubenstein said, noting that the company is currently reaching out to growers and farmers. Once full capacity is reached, the plant will take in sugarcane from approximately 41,000 acres and 33,000 acres of sweet sorghum.

Offtake agreements are already in place with Shell for the ethanol, power and biogas produced at the facility. For the ethanol production, Shell has signed a five-year offtake agreement with CE&P. The electricity and biogas will be sold to Shell Energy North America. The biogas will be upgraded to pipeline quality. According to Rubenstein, the renewable methane will likely be burned in natural gas-fired power plants to help Shell meet California’s renewable portfolio standard.