Biggest ethanol plant on East Coast comes to life

By Chris Hanson | May 29, 2014

Without a grand opening or bravado, the Vireol Bio-Energy LLC plant in Hopewell, Va., officially began operations after sitting idle since 2010.

“This has been an ongoing project,” explained Mark Haley, city manager of Hopewell. Vireol approached the town, regarding the plant, and let them know they were exploring the possibilities of dismantling the plant or keeping the facility in the U.S. In the end, the company decided to stay in the states. “We’re very happy that’s the way the business decision worked out for them.”

Originally named Appomattox Bio Energy, the plant was mechanically completed in 2010, but never reached full production and was sold to Vireol in March 2013. The original intent was to dismantle the plant and ship the pieces to the U.K. The U.K. plan was scrapped after project leaders determined it was more economical to keep the plant at its current location. “It was basically a stranded asset after the previous owners walked away and left the city with broken promises and unpaid taxes,” Haley said. “It’s a brand new plant. It was kind of a shock to the city that an investment of that size was made and left idle.”

A year later, Vireol made the opening announcement after getting approval for a $250,000 grant from Hopewell’s City Council. “Vireol’s decision to being ethanol production here in Virginia, rather than sending the plant’s assets overseas, brings to life an impressive yet completely unutilized facility that will create good paying jobs right here in Virginia,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe shortly after the grant approval.

Having the plant stay and operate at the present location provided benefits to the city. In addition to the tax revenue, the 70 to 75 employees could spend money at local businesses for food, fuel and other services. Haley said, “We’re more than happy that we got a new corporate partner right here in our city.”