By: Cole Miller
An ethanol plant has shut down its operations in Hastings, making it the 7th plant to do so in Nebraska.
There are 24 ethanol plants across Nebraska. It's a big business that relies on corn to produce the alcohol-based fuel. The same corn that was crippled by last year's drought ,and in turn, some of these plants have had to shut down. Todd Sneller with the Nebraska Ethanol Board says it's just not profitable to keep some of them running.
"We are continuing to see a strong demand for corn, both internationally and domestically, and as a result of a short corn crop, corn prices are very high, so that obviously has an impact on ethanol production economies," Sneller said.
And some of those that aren't shut down, are scaling back production. Sneller says this has a wide range of affects.
"Many of the communities that host ethanol plants realize that in the case of the Hastings plant, that's probably about 50 employees that have been retained there and the salaries paid to those employees obviously tend to circulate in the local economy," Sneller said.
Sneller says other plants are in good shape, due mostly in part to a high demand for their distiller's grain, which is a byproduct of ethanol production used as livestock feed.
But what about prices at the pump?
Many ethanol-blended gases run about 10 cents cheaper per gallon. Sneller says despite the shut downs, that shouldn't change.
"I do believe that consumers will continue to see slightly lower fuel costs because ethanol is present in the market place, but we are seeing that spike in gasoline prices today for refining reasons," Sneller said.
Sneller says two factors will play a big role in the future of Nebraska's ethanol production. One, a wet spring leading to a good corn crop, and two, strong federal policies that continue to encourage domestically produced, renewable fuels.