Federal officials said Wednesday that $5.7 million will be awarded from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a new Biomass Crop Assistance Program to be based in Northeast Ohio.

The money is allocated this year to enroll almost 5,400 acres in Lake, Geauga, Ashtabula, and Trumbull counties in Ohio, plus Crawford, Erie, and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania. The local program will be based at the Aloterra Energy facility in Conneaut.

Including Northeast Ohio, there are four project sites across the county — one in Arkansas and two in Missouri.

The entire project involves using the 50,000 acres to grow giant miscanthus, a sterile hybrid warm-season grass that can be converted into energy to be used for heat, power, liquid biofuels, and bio-based products, officials said.

The perennial grass is noninvasive, drought and pest resistant, and needs less fertilizer than food crops, which translates into less run-off into the region’s water systems.

U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Bainbridge Township, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, each said that the project could add more than 1,200 jobs to the region, including biorefinery, agricultural and support jobs.

“Landowners who want to participate in this program should call or visit their local Farm Service Agency office or contact Aloterra,” LaTourette said. “I have been working with Aloterra and USDA and pushing hard to get Ashtabula into this crop assistance program.”

The project is an example of federal dollars being invested wisely to spur economic development and pave the way for future growth, Brown said.

“This investment will create jobs, support our agricultural heritage, and reduce our dangerous and unsustainable dependence on foreign oil,” Brown said. “From offshore wind energy in Lake Erie, solar energy production in Northwest Ohio, and now biomass growth in Northeast Ohio, it’s clear that our state is leading the way in clean and renewable energy development.”

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