Consortium given more time to buy out Powers, but deal remains uncertain

2012-09-20T22:15:00Z 2012-09-21T10:01:06Z Consortium given more time to buy out Powers, but deal remains uncertainMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
September 20, 2012 10:15 pm  • 

A consortium of region contractors on Thursday argued it and its potential investors need more time to evaluate whether the trash-to-ethanol process works before taking over the long-stalled project.

On Thursday, the Lake County Solid Waste Management district obliged the consortium — at least for now — voting 16-6 to consider a transfer of the contract from Powers Energy of America to the consortium.

Faced with a vote regarding whether to cancel the contract — long mired in controversy and failed promises — or allow the potential new owners a chance to make the project reality, the solid waste board voted for the latter.

Thursday night marked the latest action in a saga of controversy dating back to November 2008 when the district board signed a contract with Powers Energy. Under the contract, Powers Energy was to build a facility to convert the county's carbon-based trash into ethanol fuel using technology that is not yet proven on a large commercial scale.

At the solid waste district board's Aug. 16 meeting, board members learned of a plan for the consortium — made up of local companies Superior Construction, Continental Electric and Morrison Construction — to purchase Powers' interest in the trash-to-ethanol project, namely whatever rights Powers holds to the INEOS Bio technology that would be incorporated at the plant.

That revelation followed more than three years of failure by would-be trash-to-ethanol developer Earl Powers and his company, Powers Energy of America, to secure financing, permits and land upon which to build the plant in Schneider.

On Thursday, claiming to be following legal advice provided by Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg, Munster Councilman and solid waste board member Joseph Simonetto succeeded in his motion for the board to consider a transfer of ownership from Powers to the consortium.

However, consortium representative Ed Cleveland said his group is not yet fully sure it can or will buy Powers' interests in the plan.

He said the consortium — and its potential investors — are waiting to see if a plant in Vero Beach, Fla., built by INEOS Bio can successfully produce fuel-grade ethanol from refuse. That plant is not yet operational.

Cleveland said the consortium is committed to buying Powers' license to the INEOS technology and building a Lake County plant — but only if testing on the Vero Beach product is satisfactory.

"If the process does not prove out, it's time to move on," Cleveland said. "That would be the endgame for us."

That testing is something that likely won't happen for another three to six months, according to Cleveland and some board members.

Six Republican members of the board were ready to cancel the Powers contract Thursday and consider legal action against Powers, some saying this was another in a long line of delay tactics regarding the project.

One of them, Griffith Councilman Rick Ryfa, questioned why nearly four years into a contract, people are still waiting to see if the technology behind it will work on a commercial scale.

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