Redwood County has consistently maintained its standing as one of the biggest corn producers in the state.
That has been a reality for a number of years, and according to Brian Kletscher, Highwater Ethanol CEO and general manager, that reality is part of the reason why it made sense more than a decade ago to take a serious look at building an ethanol plant in the county.
According to Kletscher, it was in October 2005 when the first efforts to broach the subject of building an ethanol plant in the area were made, and as the months continued what had been an idea began to take shape.
The first official meetings were held in February 2006, said Kletscher, adding in that time frame the first board was established. Many of those original members are still serving.
That same year the process of getting the proper permitting was initiated and talks about finding a way to fund the construction of a facility were started. The board opted to go $65 million in debt for the project, said Kletscher, and at this point there is just $4 million left to pay back.
Over the years, approximately $12 million has been invested into the facility as the board continues to upgrade and maintain the facility.
Ground was officially broken for Highwater Ethanol in August 2008, and one year later, Aug. 14, 2009, the first corn grind was conducted.
What that means is, in terms of its operations, Highwater Ethanol is 10 years old this month.
Kletscher said this is a big milestone for the facility, adding that it plans to celebrate the anniversary this coming Wednesday (Aug. 7). Tours of the facility will be held starting at 2 p.m. and will continue until 6 p.m. A meal is being served from 3:30 until 6 p.m.
“If you have never visited an ethanol plant and are curious about what happens this will be a good opportunity,” said Kletscher.
The facility has a current capacity of 59.5 million gallons of ethanol per year, but Kletscher said the board is currently in the process through the MPCA of increasing its capacity to 70.2 million gallons. Kletscher said if the permit is approved, while the production would increase, the current facility would be able to handle that extra demand without having to make any major changes.
One of the areas of emphasis for Highwater Ethanol has been in its need for water. While new processes are lessening the demand for water, the ethanol plant’s leadership continues to seek out new and innovative sources for its future.
What started with a production well in Highwater Township, also the source of the ethanol plant name, has dramatically changed, so that the major source of water does not come from underground, said Kletscher.
A major investment was made in 2014 when a pipeline was constructed from the Sioux Quarry, which is approximately 20 miles away from the plant. That water from the quarry is used in the ethanol making process, said Kletscher, adding the water in the quarry is of excellent quality.
“That has worked out great for us,” said Kletscher, adding because of the fall from the quarry to the plant the water is moved by gravity flow only.
Highwater Ethanol also worked with the DNR more recently to establish a rainwater collection pond next to its facility that is also used as a water source. With the exception of the water that evaporates through the stack as part of the process any water that comes in to the facility is consistently reused.
Kletscher said the water efforts being made at Highwater Ethanol are cutting edge, adding many in the industry know that there will be changes demanded in the future. What is being done at the Lamberton area site is just getting ahead of that possible change.
Kletscher added the ethanol industry is also seeing changes in the product it uses, as more and more of each kernel of corn that comes in is now being used to make ethanol.
In addition to 50-plus million gallons of ethanol produced each year, the company also produced byproducts, such as dried distillers grains (DDGs), that are fed to livestock.
Over the past 10 years, Highwater Ethanol has produced 988,670,260 million gallons of ethanol and has purchased 878,372,729 bushels of corn.
There are 43 full-time employees at Highwater Ethanol, with a $35 million payroll annually.
Kletscher said the success of Highwater Ethanol is very evident, but he encourages the public to come and see for themselves.