Financing halts White Hat Energy plant

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

The home loan crash has affected the start of another proposed alternative-energy facility in Curry County.

Gibbs Energy president Joe Maceda said the construction of biogas facility that would extract methane gas from cow manure has been stalled after the primary investor for the $25 million project was financially crippled because of the sub-prime mortgage crash.

“We are now in negotiation with other parties that are looking at replacing that, and so we’re still pushing but the environment out there is peculiar to say the least,” he said.

Gibbs Energy is one of the major partners in White Hat Energy, which is proposing to build the facility.

The project proposed building a facility on 20 acres of city-owned land near the landfill that would convert about 400 tons of cow manure from area dairies into methane gas. The gas would be distributed through a national gas line, Maceda said.

The plant would create about 90 jobs during the first phase and about 250 jobs over the next five years, officials said.

Another facility is planned for Portales.

“We’re looking at doing a series of them; you have lots of cow manure,” he said. “We’ve got customers for the output, the issue right now is strictly this financing.”

Maceda hopes the project, which was scheduled to break ground last year, will get back on track by the summer. Construction of the facility would take between nine months to a year.

“It’s too good a deal, the country needs gas, it needs to get rid of manure, and gas is only going up,” Maceda said. “The yields on (a biogas plant) are outstanding.”

New Mexico State University Dairy Specialist Robert Hagevoort said methane plants are viable industries in dairy areas such as Clovis, but he said biogas producers will first have to forge a working relationship with dairy farmers.

“I don’t think they’ve offered anything to these dairy men that is going to help them solve their issues,” he said referring to the White Hat Energy plant.

Officials from Clovis Biodiesel and American Renewable Fuels announced earlier this year they were delaying proposed operations in Clovis indefinitely for financial reasons.

NMSU crop physiologist Sangu Angadi said the feed stock market for biodiesel plants have put potential investors in a “wait and see” mode. He said farmers getting a high price for wheat and corn crops are not willing to plant other crops better suited for biodiesel production such as canola, sunflower and mustard seeds.

But he said alternative fuel is still a viable industry in New Mexico.

“Definitely, wheat prices will stabilize, and there should be a place for biodiesel,” he said.