Hopewell's ethanol plant suspends production, looking for new owners

Published: Sep. 1, 2015 at 9:43 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2015 at 10:57 PM EDT
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HOPEWELL, VA (WWBT) - There is trouble brewing for Hopewell's ethanol plant.

The plant was supposed to spur economic development in the area but NBC 12 learned Vireol Bio Energy is looking to sell the site and layoffs could be on the way. Owners say low gas prices are contributing to the plant's struggles.

Who doesn't love a bargain at the pump?

"Americans are paying the lowest gas prices since 2004 right now for this time of year and that's really amazing when you think about the fact that gas just a year ago was pretty close to $4 a gallon," AAA spokesperson Michael Green said.

However, not everyone is cheering.

"It's a bit difficult for us to keep running right now," Peter McGenity with Vireol Bio Energy said.

The plant is actually suspending production of ethanol due to the competition.

"Who would have expected oil to be up $40 per barrel in 2015?" McGenity added. "No one could have anticipated that."

The company is now courting ethanol investors who could take over the plant all together. Vireol received three offers within the last week.

NBC 12 asked if any of its employees will be laid off due to the current situation.

"Right now, the answer is no, but there would be the possibility that there may be some," McGenity replied.

He says if the plant isn't sold this by the end of October, employees could get pink slips.

"We were very disappointed because really this was the first year they've really been up and running strong," Hopewell City Manager Mark Haley said.

Haley says he wanted to see the ethanol plant do well since it put folks to work.

As the company works to overcome its challenges, experts believe there's still room for businesses specializing in alternative fuel.

"People who care about the environment may still want to buy hybrid, electric, or even alternative fuel vehicles just because it helps the environment and the cost of gasoline may have little impact on their decisions," Green said.

At this point, the company has no idea how long it will have to suspend its operations.

There is another obstacle facing the ethanol plant. Hopewell's city treasurer says Vireol Bio Energy owes more than $124,100 dollars in back taxes and that does not include interest or penalties.

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