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Economic race shouldn’t be just one horse

The likelihood an enormous wood-to-petroleum production facility in Adams County will open anytime soon looks slim.

Long-time community skeptics will throw up their hands and say, “I told you so,” to the news that KiOR is out of cash.

Those critics will draw parallels with the last great technological energy hope that came to town with promises of grandeur — Rentech. The coal-to-liquids fuel company has become the local poster child for failed, pie-in-the-sky companies.

After coming to town and promising to bring a $1 billion plant to transform coal into a liquid fuel replacement, the company eventually scuttled its plans.

But KiOR isn’t exactly Rentech, though they certainly share some similarities.

Like Rentech, KiOR came to Mississippi a few years ago with enormous promises. Rentech never made much sense here since it used coal, which isn’t found in this area.

But KiOR did make a little more sense. It used wood as its base material. Wood, we have — in spades.

KiOR promised to turn shuttered paper mills and the forests that fed them into America’s version of the Saudi Arabian oil fields.

KiOR claims it can take wood chips and cook them into oil that can be refined into fuel that can be burned in cars and trucks.

Natchez-Adams County was promised the second of several such facilities planned for the state of Mississippi. The first plant was put online in Columbus, but apparently never reached enough production to become profitable.

The company recently said it ran out of cash — it was burning through it at an alarming rate — and planned to idle its Columbus facility until more investment capital can be found.

The news is disappointing for our community. We were hopeful the technology KiOR was developing would be sufficient to allow the Natchez plant to be built.

But at least this time, the area doesn’t have all our economic eggs in one basket. At the time Rentech was announced, Rentech was all we had for which to hope. Now, at least, we have several possibilities on the economic horizon.

KiOR was a long shot, but that’s why we have other horses in the race.