Biofuel battle in Valle Vista

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It began when a large Biofuels company, Sun West, announced plans to build a plant on a patch of desert along historic Route 66 northeast of Kingman. Not only would it spoil the views, many residents thought, but it would drive down the value of property at Valle Vista.

Many residents also pointed to recent news stories about biofuel plants in other states exploding or catching fire. Just a few weeks ago, they said a lightning strike in Florida caused an explosion at a plant  Biodiesel plant burns in Osceola County.

One resident said  she was, "strongly against it because it is a dangerous situation. What about the aftermath?" She asked, "The aftermath is oops, my bad. Sorry about the vaporization. Sorry about the fumes that drifted over to Valle Vista.'"

But there was also significant support for the plant. Proponents said it would create tax revenue and desperately needed jobs.

In the end, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors found the benefits outweighed the concerns and this week voted in favor of allowing a zoning use permit for SunWest Biofuel.

Rick Neal, owner of the property and a partner in SunWest Biofuel, tried to ease residents’ concerns by saying that they plan to use the latest firefighting and safety equipment in the plant.

He also addressed concerns that the plant could go out of business and leave the area with a possibly dangerous eyesore on a historic highway.

Neal maintains that there are many reasons why biofuels plants are going out of business (this recent Wall Street Journal article examines why the "biofuels revolution that promised to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil is fizzling out").

One reason, according to Neal, the price of soy has gone through the roof recently; many of the older plants use soy oil in their process. But Neal says his plant would be able to use any material that could be processed into biofuel.

The plant, which will cost about $30 million to build, is expected to be up and running by this time next year.

Residents say they are planning their next line of defense. It’s just not yet clear what that might be.