Playing the Ethanol Waiting Game in Ford Heights


Hard times for the U.S. corn ethanol industry doesn’t always mean plants officially get the boot — sometimes it’s a more subtle move, like ignoring a planned plant til it’s basically kaput. That’s the case for Ford Heights Ethanol, at least according to Bloomberg, which says the company applied for a permit for a $130 million plant in Illinois in June 2006, promising economic prosperity, but has quietly sat on the plans.

According to the Illinois EPA, the plant was going to be designed to provide 63 million gallons of ethanol per year and would have been powered by natural gas. The Illinois EPA issued a construction permit July 31, 2007, and there was a planned public hearing for June 12, 2007. We’re not sure if that hearing ever happened, but Bloomberg says the plot where the plant was to be built is covered in “knee-high grass and old tires,” and that, “[T]wo years later, no work has begun.”

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Few are likely surprised by such a situation — we’ve been compiling our ethanol death watch map (Ford Heights Ethanol newly added) for a good 9 months now, and mainstream media like NPR have inked titles like High Corn Prices Cast Shadow Over Ethanol Plants.

The high corn prices are bad enough, with various reports blaming biofuels for the subsequent rise in food costs that has ranged from 3 percent to a whopping 75 percent. But it was also the rapid build-out of a heavily subsidized industry that has proven to be a mixed bag for greener transportation. As fuel consultant Jim Jordan, of Jim Jordan & Associates, tells Bloomberg, “We have in fact overbuilt. This thing is pretty devastating.”

But it’s most devastating for the local area that has been dreaming of green jobs, only to be kept waiting. Particularly an area like Ford Heights, Ill., which has a population of 3,300 — 49 percent of which live in poverty. Ford Heights Ethanol President Jonathan Kahn tells Bloomberg that no one would fund the project and the company regrets not being able to bring jobs to the area.


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