Biofuels Center will be closing operation soon

Jul. 25, 2013 @ 07:22 PM

OXFORD — Granville County and North Carolina are losing a major contributor to the economy and to efforts to reduce the state’s dependence on foreign oil.

The Biofuels Center of North Carolina, based in Oxford, is a casualty of the 2013-2014 state budget passed recently by the General Assembly. Because the budget does not contain funds for the center, it will be forced to close.

Wil Glenn, director of communication and public affairs for the Biofuels Center, said 14 employees at the Oxford location will be terminated, as will an additional 20 employees located in other parts of the state. He said ending operations would take place in the next few weeks.

Glenn estimated two of the 14 are Granville County residents, the rest commuting from the Triangle.

“It’s unfortunate for the state of North Carolina and the stakeholders,” Glenn said. “Surprised? We’ve known it was a possibility.”

He said that over the past five years the Biofuels Center has funded 71 projects, totaling more than $10 million, to strengthen biofuels production in North Carolina.

The Biofuels Center, a nonprofit corporation, was created in 2007 through legislation introduced by former state Rep. Jim Crawford and former state Sen. Charlie Albertson. It was funded with a $5 million appropriation.

Funding has continued each year, although support has declined in recent years. In 2012-2013, the center received $4.3 million; a state appropriation of $2,063,035 was supplemented with $2,240,000 from Tennessee Valley Authority settlement funds.

The goal of the center was to develop a large-scale biofuels industry to reduce the state’s dependence on imported petroleum. North Carolina buys 5.6 billion gallons of liquid fuels every year, most of it imported.

The task of the Biofuels Center was to stimulate the development of a state-based industry capable of producing up to 600 million gallons of biofuels a year from local renewable resources, providing an economic boost to North Carolina farmers and landowners.

The decision not to fund the center seems to run counter to the wishes of a majority of North Carolinians. In a survey released in June of this year, 79 percent of the respondents indicated that they believe the state should transition from an economy that depends so heavily on oil to one that uses more renewable fuel, and 76 percent said they want more renewable fuel options at gas stations.

The survey, conducted by Research Now, was commissioned by Fuels America and the Biofuels Center of North Carolina.

“They had a dynamic group of people doing a terrific job,” Crawford said of the center. “I think some people don’t understand the importance of creating a crop we can raise in eastern North Carolina to create a fuel.”

“They were getting themselves ready to be an attraction for that whole industry,” said Dave Currin, a Granville County commissioner.

Crawford put the closing in a broader context.

“Most of these nonprofits were set up under the Democrats,” Crawford said. “The Republicans seem to want to use departmental resources or their own nonprofits.

“Personally, I think it’s a horrible mistake. If you have something that is working, you keep it going.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.