John Eligon and Matthew L. Wald, March 16- Five years ago, rural America was giddy for ethanol.
Backed by government subsidies and mandates, hundreds of ethanol plants rose among the golden fields of the Corn Belt, bringing jobs and business to small towns, providing farmers with a new market for their crops and generating billions of dollars in revenue for the producers of this corn-based fuel blend.
Those days of promise and prosperity are vanishing.
Nearly 10 percent of the nation’s ethanol plants have stopped production over the past year, in part because the drought that has ravaged much of the nation’s crops pushed commodity prices so high that ethanol has become too expensive to produce.
A dip in gasoline consumption has compounded the industry’s problem by reducing the demand for ethanol.
The situation has left the fate of dozens of ethanol plants hanging in the balance and has unsettled communities that once prospered from this biofuel.
“It’s a more somber mood,” said Todd Sneller, the administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. “The growth opportunity that existed some years ago is still out there in theory, but the reality that it’s going to take an awful lot of time, money and political battles to realize that opportunity” is causing consternation.