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ORTONVILLE, Minn. - They turned on the blender pumps Oct. 4 at the Border States Cooperative convenience store in Ortonville, Minn. Blender pumps were scheduled to go online Oct. 5 in Belgrade, Minn.

ORTONVILLE, Minn. - They turned on the blender pumps Oct. 4 at the Border States Cooperative convenience store in Ortonville, Minn. Blender pumps were scheduled to go online Oct. 5 in Belgrade, Minn.

"This is the first of its kind in the state of Minnesota," says Dick Strei, a Border States board member and farmer from Big Stone, S.D. "Prior to today, we had our choice of E85 or E10, and now we have a choice of selecting E20, E30 or E85 or the standard E10."

Strei, who made an appearance at the store with board members Evan Holker and Bruce Hoernemann, both of Ortonville, says they hope the blender pumps will increase the consumption of ethanol.

"The rural communities are very supportive of the ethanol industry and would like a choice, the ability, to use more ethanol because none of the older vehicles are rated for E85 consumption."

Holker says he'll use E50.

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"It's going to give you a little better mileage, possibly, than E85, and older vehicles.

Mel Domine, general manager for Border States, which sells fuel at five convenience stores and two other service stations in area towns, says the blends are officially targeted at vehicles owners with flex-fuel systems designed to run on E85.

Offering a choice

The blender pumps will allow people to choose other blends.

"We know there are safe blends that will run in other vehicles," Domine says. "It's up to that individual what they're going to put in that tank."

The co-op's decisions to expand the blender pump use in other towns will depend on how they do in Ortonville. Some stations are in small towns with low volume and a conversion might not be practical.

Border States Cooperative will hold a grand opening for the blender pumps at 11 a.m. Oct. 11 to officially kick off the use of the blender pumps. The event will include a lunch of corn dogs and corn chips.

"It'll be as much of the corn as we can offer," Domine says.

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Minnesota pays up to $10,000 of costs of installing E85 pumps. A year ago, Border States installed the blender equipment during a $50,000 installation of a new tank, plumbing and dispenser. He says the co-op decided to include the blender equipment on the assumption it eventually would be legal and only turned it on now, after it was approved by the state.

Steve Kleespies of Morris, Minn., works for Westmor Industries L.L.C. The company installs gasoline tanks and related equipment. Kleespies was instrumental in working with the Minnesota Weights and Measurers agency to allow blends between E10 and E85. He says the blender equipment is no more expensive than installing the standard equipment.

Kleespies says a year from now, he'd expect there might be upward of 100 sites in the state to offer the blender pumps. Stations already set up for E85 will have an easy time adapting, and some that had been reluctant to put in E85 might be more inclined, if customers can choose intermediate blends, such as E20, E30 and E50.

Boosting usageMerle Anderson of Climax, Minn., a longtime promoter of ethanol fuels, traveled to Ortonville for the first day of blender pump operation. He says stations in Watertown and Britton, S.D., have increased ethanol usage by using the blender pumps.

In Watertown, a station had been selling only three transport trailers of E85 per month before switching to blender pumps. Afterward, they were using 30 transports.

Owen Jones, an American Coalition for Ethanol director, who also is on the board of 4 Seasons Cooperative of Britton, also traveled to Ortonville and pumped his vehicle full of an intermediate blend. He says 4 Seasons doubled its use of ethanol when it installed blender pumps.

"I think we need to recognize that CHS has been very supportive of this process," Jones says.

He says the blends are needed to avert a crisis of finding additional markets for ethanol. With the low prices for ethanol, some of the ethanol plants that have been planned for construction are being put on hold. He worries that without better marketing with blender pumps, the investments in small, community-based ethanol plants in the region will be jeopardized.

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Orrie Swayze of nearby Wilmot, S.D., another ethanol promoter, and promoter of the blender pumps, says a failure in ethanol marketing will be reflected in the corn prices.

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