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Hopeful buyer of INEOS plans to employ 200

Photo: Alliance BioEnergy President Daniel de Liege

Alliance BioEnergy President Daniel de Liege told county commissioners last week that he plans to employ 200 people at the defunct INEOS plant if his offer to buy the property is accepted, and if he can be sure there’s a steady stream of yard waste to feed his patented, mechanical process for making ethanol.

The Board of County Commissioners heard him out, and directed staff to draft a 90-day option on the county’s mulched vegetative material discarded by residents and landscapers. That deal, which is expected to be voted on Feb. 7, was the outcome de Liege hoped for as he said he needed an arrangement in place on the “feed stock” as part of his funding package for the purchase.

But when he went to the podium, de Liege also got a seemingly unanticipated lecture about how not to operate his business. If he succeeds in convincing owner Arbor Bank and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that he is the right guy to take over the operation, county officials want to be kept very much in the loop.

Chairman Joe Flescher began on a positive note, saying it seems the county may be getting more information out of Alliance than it ever got out of INEOS, but then he tore into INEOS for its shortfalls and secrecy.

“We still do not know what INEOS produced, how much, where and what the process was, because everything was considered secret scientific material and operations and we were kept pretty much in the dark,” Flescher said. “That’s why you might perceive a little bit of extra concern. It has nothing to do with your operation, your intentions.”

INEOS, commissioners said, not only failed to fulfill all the many lofty promises it made about transforming garbage to energy, but managers tasked with sharing information left the county in the dark to an extent that for months no one knew whether the plant was functioning, or on the verge of being shuttered. Corporate press releases offered sunny but shallow updates and county recycling staff was denied the hard data needed to get environmental credits from state officials.

Commissioner Susan Adams took issue with the way the INEOS sale matter came before the commission last week, as an “emergency” item added to the agenda, nearly three weeks after Vero Beach 32963 reported that de Liege had made an offer to buy the plant and had met with top county managers. She said she was not pleased with being asked to make a decision based on “minimal information.”

“We are in a crunch with INEOS moving out. We will have to make some decisions, too, and I don’t want something to fall through with this and that’s going to snag that process,” Adams said, referring to the fact that a bid packet is already on the street for processing and hauling away the county’s yard waste.

Adams said she felt the board was being rushed without much information, and that she would like to have the staff vet Alliance and its leadership before the item comes back for a vote next week.

De Liege explained the last-minute nature of his request was because an unanticipated concern arose with his funding just days prior. “It was not ideal, I understand,” de Liege said apologetically.

Solari said he preferred having the heads-up that the item would be coming back on Feb. 7 and that he was glad the county would not be getting in the way or delaying the process of Alliance trying to buy the plant.

County Administrator Jason Brown clarified the relationship that would exist between Alliance and the county. He said the only involvement the county would have with Alliance would be to provide the yard waste, at no cost. Brown and County Attorney Dylan Reingold both said Alliance would not need to be vetted the way a company would that was applying for funding or tax breaks.

What made INEOS’ business the county’s business, and the public’s business, was the fact that the British company arrived in Vero Beach seeking government handouts. On top of federal and state grants and a $49 million loan guarantee from the USDA, the company set up shop partially on the backs of local taxpayers.

The county supported INEOS establishing its production headquarters in Vero by subsidizing high-tech salaries with jobs grants and by waiving a decreasing percentage of property taxes for the first decade. INEOS purchased the needed parcels in 2010 and held a “grand opening” in 2013, but was never able to make a commercially viable go of its yard waste to ethanol operation – despite a $130 million investment.

De Liege has stated repeatedly that he’s not looking for any monetary support from government, only an ongoing, symbiotic relationship whereby the county supplies him with the green and woody “feed stock” he needs to make cheap sugar to turn into ethanol.

But even though he seeks no grants or tax breaks from Indian River County, de Liege said he would practice an open-door policy and that no part of his operation would be off-limits due to trade secrets or safety concerns. He also said he would work with recycling staff to provide the numbers needed for them to lobby Tallahassee for more credits for the tonnage of materials used by Alliance to make renewable energy.

“We do not run a super-secret process,” de Liege said, adding that the Vero site would be an incubator used for research and opened up to students and scientists to learn and experiment. “We’re looking to make this a technology quarter right here in Indian River,” he said.

A West Palm Beach-based company with a research and development laboratory in Longwood, Florida, Alliance BioEnergy plans to use a ball-bearing apparatus borrowed from the coal-refining industry to physically break down the cellulose in plant material, with Kaolinite clay mixed in as a catalyst. Energy is released, sugar is produced very cheaply and fermented on-site to create ethanol. De Liege said Alliance would not emit any waste into the air, ground or water.

De Liege – who plans to move to Indian River County once the deal goes through – said last month that he has significantly increased his offer to purchase the plant.

He upped that offer because Arbor bank, which called INEOS’ note, hired a California company to market the property. If a bidding war starts, de Liege said, it could delay the conversion of the plant to Alliance’s technology and also delay putting skilled workers and previous INEOS technicians to work at the facility.

The 90-day non-exclusive option on the yard waste, if approved, will give Alliance some assurance it needs for its investors, plus a window within which to negotiate the sale. De Liege said he hopes a closing can happen in the next few months.