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Published September 22, 2009, 08:11 AM

Rosy future still possible for ethanol plants facing tough times

Fergus Falls, Minn. (WDAY TV) - Just a little over a year after it opened, the ethanol plant near Fergus Falls is facing foreclosure and it owes investors more than 60 million dollars.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

Fergus Falls, Minn. (WDAY TV) - Just a little over a year after it opened, the ethanol plant near Fergus Falls is facing foreclosure and it owes investors more than 60 million dollars.

According to court documents, Ottertail Ag failed to make monthly payments in February and March of this year. A financial backer, Ag Star Financial, agreed to postpone foreclosing in April, but the plant still didn't make payments through August.

It has also failed to pay back 7-million dollars to Otter Tail County. The struggles of the Fergus Falls plant are a reflection of the industry nationwide, but experts are quick to point out that the plant shutdowns and bankruptcies don't mean ethanol plants are fading away, just the opposite they say.

The ethanol plant near Casselton is one of the few production facilities nearby not making news. Hankinson remains shut down for now. Fergus is struggling financially. Bruce Dale of Michigan State is a much sought after expert on bio-energy research.

“All of the costs associated of making ethanol are tied up in the cost of corn and grain and so if you are not careful with buying grain you can be in trouble fast.”

While it seems like a lot of gloom and doom for the nation's ethanol industry featuring grain and fuel price volatility. Those who study the industry say there is no way ethanol plants don't have a role in the future of alternative energy.

“Ethanol has had wonderful times but have gone thru a dry spot the last 9 months but they have a rosy future.”

Meantime the ethanol industry waits to see the impact of the corn harvest. Part of a cycle these plants live and die by.

“Not going away, in fact I think it will continue to grow.

Meantime, NDSU’s Williston Research Extension Center is working with 23-farmers and business people to develop and build the Yellowstone ethanol plant. It will process 20-million bushels of corn per year. Construction has not started yet.

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