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How the County’s Biodiesel-Making Effort in Cathcart Flopped
by Karen Law (Tribune) Snohomish County’s gamble on turning canola into biodiesel has turned belly-up, but at least the Spokane Indian Tribe may reap a jackpot this week when the County Council votes on surplussing its remaining biofuel equipment, a grain crusher purchased in 2008 under a biofuels initiative, to the tribe.
Under a 2005 biofuels initiative, the county had been awarded $344,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy and $500,000 from the state government agency now known as the Depart-ment of Commerce to invest in diesel production from canola and other crops. Another $523,000 came from the county’s solid-waste budget.
The money went into installing the grain crusher and a grain dryer at the county’s Cathcart public works site in 2008 and promoting the planting of canola to local agriculture.
Some of the money, $143,000, was returned when Bellingham-based Whole Energy Fuels, contracted to develop the grain-crushing system, ran into technical difficulties and failed to deliver all the goods as scheduled.
Oil was selling for $140 a barrel in 2008, making diesel production from canola attractive. That is no longer the case with oil selling for just $44 a barrel recently, making it significantly less expensive than the cost of converting canola into a biofuel. And while canola prices were on the rise several years ago, it is still a commercially low-return crop for Western Washington farmers, who also say it is suited more for Eastern Washington’s sunnier and drier climate.
Because of grant restrictions, the county has not been able to do the same with the grain crusher until the Spokane Tribe of Indians, which has commenced its own biodiesel project, expressed interest. The tribe qualifies to receive the grain crusher under Snohomish County Code, which allows the county to dispose of surplus property by “negotiated sale, lease, or trade to a governmental agency.” READ MORE