Friday, August 10, 2007

Ethanol For One, And One For All

At first glance this seems like really good news:

Cambridge, Mass.-based Mascoma Corp. plans to use wood-based products to make cellulosic ethanol at plants in the Griffiss Business & Technology Park in Rome and an undetermined site in Michigan.

The cellulosic ethanol will be produced from biomass — paper sludge, wood chips, switch grass and corn stover — from New York state.

The Oneida County Industrial Development Agency approved a 20-year tax relief package, or payment in lieu of taxes program, for Mascoma at a board of directors meeting Thursday.

The deal will save Mascoma $1.25 million in property taxes and sales tax.

As part of its deal, Mascoma will be required to create 10 jobs over three years, said Rob Duchow, spokesman for the development corporation. He said the average annual salary will be $50,000.

The Rome site will be a demonstration plant that will produce as much as 2 million gallons of ethanol a year.

Maybe I'm overly cynical, but something about this announcement makes my spidey sense tingle. Why? First, it's coming out of the blue. Second, not a single politician has taken credit for what appears to be a multi-million dollar project that, conceivably, could have a huge economic impact on the area.

Update: The more I Google around the stranger this deal looks. Take a look at this press release about the original award of the $14.8 million dollar grant to put the plant just outside Rochester.

One of the companies – Mascoma Corporation – will build a 500,000 gallon/year facility in the Town of Greece, Monroe County. This project, which is a collaborative effort with Genencor, an enzyme company in Greece, along with Clarkson University, Cornell, and Khosla Ventures, has been awarded a $14,800,000 State grant and will include more than $15 million in private investment...

The State grants will be matched by the individual companies, resulting in significant private investments for the facilities. The projects are expected to initially create 48 permanent jobs, with the potential for additional job creation in the years ahead. In addition, the facilities will create new markets for 45 tons of biomass per day, which will generate approximately $10 million in the local economies over the next three years.

Mascoma Corporation is a recently-formed company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts that specializes in cellulosic ethanol technology. The proposed facility will use paper wastes from International Paper’s Ticonderoga plant in Essex County and wood chips from a St. Lawrence County supplier to make the cellulosic ethanol, and will also eventually employ a range of New York-produced feedstocks on a test basis.

The details of the proposal have changed significantly in terms of location, by several hundred miles, by jobs, from 50 down to 10 over three years, and capacity, by over a million gallons per year. Isn't the company pulling a bit of a bait-and-switch on this?

You'll also notice the press release is filled with comments from elected officials, since this is just the kind of pork gobblin' project they love. I count...what...twelve different politicians, from the governor on down? Why would a project like this suddenly move from Greece to Griffiss without a peep from a single politician?

Update: The company still hasn't put out a press release about the move. Nothing via PR Newswire or the company's own website.