This project is also notable for its technological and green aspects.

“This is the first energy beet project to advance to the pilot and demonstration phase in the United States,” Tischer said.  With a year-round harvest schedule, the beet crop delivers ethanol yields that are greater per acre and have a lower carbon index than Brazilian sugar cane or North American corn.

Another green aspect of the biorefinery: Woody plant matter, as well as beets, will be used to produce about 15 percent of the ethanol at the Mendota plant. Also, the water in the beets will be captured during processing and recycled so that little water will be used in the plant.

The project will bring new jobs and opportunities to an area in need, and builds on the collaboration of dozens of beet farmers in the area who formed the Mendota Advanced Bioenergy Beet Cooperative after the local sugar plant closed five years ago. This effort led to the establishment of Mendota Bioenergy, LLC, in 2011.

“This is going to be a great opportunity in an area hard-hit by drought and unemployment,” said Phil Larson, a Fresno County Supervisor whose district includes Mendota. “This puts the possibility of 35,000 acres being put back in production for a crop that disappeared five years ago.”

“We’re in a high unemployment area so these jobs mean a lot,” said Mendota Mayor Robert Silva. “These folks know how to grow those beets; it’s great to see the beet industry get on its feet again.”

The award approved today is made through the Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, created by Assembly Bill 118. For the current fiscal year, the program is slated to invest approximately $90 million to encourage the development and use of new technologies, and alternative and renewable fuels, to help the state meet its climate change goals. It is funded through vehicle and boat registration fees, as well as smog check and license plate fees.