The principal players in a failed plan to establish an ethanol plant in Georgetown four years ago are back in the province.

This time around, they have received over $2 million in provincial and federal dollars to locate a demonstration plant in Cornwall. Back in 2007, Agritech Ethanol announced plans to build a 85 million litre plant using sugar beets as the feed stock to produce ethanol. However, a report commissioned by the province recommended against the plan and the company set up shop in Nova Scotia.

While the name has changed to Atlantec Bioenergy, the company is headed by Paul Wheaton and Ron Coles, who were president and vice president respectively of AgriTech Ethanol. They have received 1.8 million in grants, loans and labour rebates from the provincial government and $340,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Company executives were joined by Egmont MP and National Revenue Minister Gail Shea and Innovation Minister Allen Roach to unveil their plans at a recent news conference. Wheaton said during the news conference the company contracted with a grower in Savage Harbour to produce 50 acres of what he termed an “energy beet” The variety has been genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup and can be grown with a minimum amount of chemicals.

Instead of producing ethanol commercially, the company has a patent on the technology and hopes to sell it. The Cornwall plant, which is slated to come on stream early, next year, will exist largely to demonstrate the technology to potential customers. The company indicates they hope to employ 8-10 people immediately, increasing that to 25 within the first five years.

There appears to be little opportunity for producers to develop new markets—at least with the demonstration plant. Company Vice President Ron Coles told CBC the plant would need only 40-50 acres of sugar beets for demonstration purposes. Back in 2007, AgriTech Ethanol convinced a number of growers to divert acreage to sugar beet production.

The National Farmers Union was critical of the Georgetown proposal five years ago. Randall Affleck, who represents the province on the NFU national board, said he did not have enough facts to pass judgment on the current proposal.

“I would want to see research that shows this can be profitable,” he said.

However, Green Party Leader Sharon Labchuk said she was “shocked” the provincial and federal governments were supporting the proposal

“The same objections to this scheme still stand. We want to know why the Premier didn’t hold public meetings,” Labchuk said. “This company has made no secret of the fact they’re looking to grow sugar beets on an industrial scale in the Maritimes.”

She added it was “sneaky and underhanded" to spend our tax dollars this way when the Premier knows very well there has been significant opposition to ethanol and that Islanders are more interested than ever in supporting local organic food production over industrial monoculture crops.”

For her part, Shea called the proposal “an excellent example of how we continue to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to pursue research and development that will drive innovation, strengthen our economy and increase our region’s competitiveness.”

Meanwhile Roach praised the export potential of the idea adding it could also mean business for other Island companies.

“ABC is extremely excited with its move to Prince Edward Island and the opportunities that are ahead as we demonstrate and showcase our unique concept on our pathway to commercialization,” said Wheaton. “We welcome the investment provided by the federal and provincial governments and in return our investment into the Island economy.”

Meanwhile, the Council of Canadians is worried about the fact the plant will be using genetically modified crops. Spokesman Leo Broderick called for further consultation.

"Islanders need to know the impact the proposed ethanol production plant will have on converting thousands of acres of Island farmland into land for growing fuel for cars, the impact of GM beets will have on organic farming, and the impact the plant and GM beets will have on P.E.I.'s groundwater," he said.


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