Opp Still Waiting For Bio-Fuels Plant To Get Going

By Bryan Henry - bio | email

OPP, AL (WSFA) - For the people of Opp it's come down to two words; what happened?

A little more than a year ago Perihelion Global broke ground on a $20 million operation. The company said it planned to produce alternative fuels by using peanuts. Excitement abounded, the promise of 150 jobs and more cash in tax revenues for the town.

"It'll create a cleaner environment and add local jobs to the economy," CEO John Beebe said on May 9, 2007.

Today, nothing is moving on the land. Only two buildings stand, the temporary office and a tent-like structure. Most of the property appears to be fenced-in.  The hold up?

Company attorney Julian McPhillips says Perihelion is in final negotiations with the IRS on how much money it will have to pay in federal excise taxes on motor fuel. It is apparently a complicated process because the business of producing bio-fuels is still relatively new. McPhillips says once both sides complete their negotiations the IRS is expected to issue the company its tax certification.

"This is a multi-layered process of approvals, the excise tax approvals and regulations. A lot of people have to sign off on it," McPhillips said.

Meantime, Perihelion says in its agreement with the city of Opp the company doesn't have to be up and running until February of next year, but there may be issues with that contract. Mayor H.D. Edgar declined an on-camera interview but told WSFA 12 News by phone the city has more than fulfilled its obligations with Perihelion. The company disputes that claim. Beebe says Opp officials haven't put in the promised rail service, no road infrastructure and no sewage lines.

Without those key elements, Beebe indicated the company can still produce alternative fuels but on a much smaller scale. Right now the immediate goal is to get IRS approval.

The bottom line is Beebe hopes to be in business within 60 to 90 days if not much sooner. Beebe says he has already gone through 'three phases' of red tape with the IRS. The average pay for those jobs will range from $10 to $20 an hour but there is a change. Beebe says because of the 'slowing economy and the constant regulatory changes in the industry' he will not be able to meet the number of employees he initially agreed to with the city. It's not clear just how many will be hired.