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KiOR pushes back Natchez plans

NATCHEZ — KiOR announced Thursday plans to expand its operations in Columbus while planning to break ground in Natchez in the last quarter of 2014.

The initial timeline from the company projected construction would start in Natchez near the end of the first quarter 2013.

After announcing in mid-2012 plans to build a cellulostic fuel production facility in Natchez that would create 350 direct or indirect jobs, KiOR said one of the necessary first steps would be to get its Columbus facility — which was under construction at the time — into steady state production in order to approach the financial markets to finance the Natchez project.

The Columbus facility began shipping fuel in March.

In August, KiOR Chief Executive Officer Fred Cannon announced the company was considering building a second facility in Columbus — dubbed Columbus II — before moving forward with Natchez because shared infrastructure and personnel could reduce construction time and help the company achieve cash flow profitability more quickly.

Cannon said Thursday the company could better plan construction timing and costs for the $250 million Columbus II project because it will essentially be a duplicate of the existing Columbus facility.

Columbus II could ultimately help the company finance the Natchez project, Cannon said.

“We believe that the Columbus II project also enables KiOR to continue to execute on our long-term business plan, consisting of larger, standard scale commercial production facilities,” he said.

“In parallel with the Columbus II project, we plan to accelerate our efforts to refine the design, based on the newest technology improvements, of our next standard scale commercial production facility, currently planned for groundbreaking in the second half of 2014 in Natchez.

“As a result of these additional efforts, we would expect to improve both the capital and operating cost profiles of the planned Natchez facility against the estimates outlined in our last earnings call. We believe these improvements to both capital and operating costs will enable us to attain financing for the planned Natchez facility on terms more favorable to KiOR and less dilutive to its shareholders.”

The Natchez facility will be located on the site of the former Belwood Country Club near the Natchez-Adams County Port.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors had committed to build a levee along the property, which is prone to flooding from the Mississippi River at high stages, and began the initial process of adopting a $7 million bond to finance the levee construction. The board has not yet taken out the bond.

“The board agreed we would put that on hold until we know what KiOR is going to do in terms of construction, so we will defer that until it is time for them to be ready to break ground here,” Supervisors’ President Darryl Grennell said.

And while Thursday’s announcement means Adams County won’t see dirt moving on site for some time, Grennell said, “As long as there is still going to be a Natchez plant, I am still happy.”

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said that the county has worked some changes into its agreements with the company but “we still have a strong opinion towards the construction, financing and building of their Natchez facility.”

“The bottom line is that we have those agreements in place that protect the county as well as our position on that property,” Russ said.

The estimated cost for the levee is approximately $5 million. In addition to the bond financing, the county will receive a $2 million grant from the Mississippi Development Authority.

Work on Columbus II will begin within 90 days of the company raising finances for it, Cannon said, and will take approximately 18 months. The company already has a $50 million commitment to Columbus II from Khosla Ventures and Vinod Khosla, one of its heaviest-to-date investors.

KiOR stock jumped approximately 58 percent to $2.89 a share Thursday.