“Minnesota has been a pioneer, first demonstrating success with a five percent biodiesel blend. Moving to B10 continues the state’s role as a leader for our energy future, a future that includes diverse options like America’s Advanced Biofuel, biodiesel” said Steven Levy, Chairman for the National Biodiesel Board.
According to the American Lung Association of Minnesota, the state’s current B5 standard reduces emissions equal to removing nearly 35,000 vehicles from the road, which equates to 644 million pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Increasing the blend from B5 to B10 will mean an additional demand of 20 million gallons of biodiesel each year on top of the current usage of 40 million gallons. Minnesota’s current operating production capacity is over 60 million gallons per year. Plants are currently operating in Isanti, Brewster and Albert Lea.
“It is encouraging to see leaders implement consistently strong biofuels policy; this is obviously in sharp contrast to the mixed messages sent from Washington, DC,” said Levy. “Minnesota’s move to B10 shows the impressive potential for renewable energy when policy and entrepreneurship work hand in hand to support real benefits that impact us all. Hopefully those at the national level will see the success in Minnesota and follow up with a strong federal energy policy and strong renewable fuel standard.”
Minnesota was supposed to move to B10 two years ago, but delays to make sure adequate blending infrastructure was in place put it off until now. Starting next year, B10 will be sold from April through September. The rest of the time, a 5 percent blend requirement is in place.
Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) visited the REG biodiesel plant in Mason City, Iowa on Friday to meet with members of the state’s biodiesel industry concerned about the proposed lowering of volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
The current RFS proposal would set biodiesel volumes at 1.28 billion gallons, a sharp cut from last year’s actual production of nearly 1.8 billion gallons. “We’re grateful to Rep. Braley for his support on renewable fuels, and we’re asking for his help specifically in increasing the proposed biodiesel volume to at least 1.7 billion gallons,” said Grant Kimberley, executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board.
A recent national survey of producers conducted by the National Biodiesel Board found that more than half have idled a plant this year and 78 percent have reduced production from last year. Nearly two-thirds have already laid off employees or anticipate doing so. “Iowa is the leading biodiesel state, which generates jobs and economic advancement,” Kimberly said. “The future of these promising businesses is threatened.”
Braley, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Tom Harkin promised that he will “continue to reach out with strong voice and talk about importance of biofuels for Iowa and nation.”
While the ethanol industry awaits the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision on the amount of ethanol to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, ethanol producers are looking at other ways to make sure the green fuel increases its blend amounts.
In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we hear from Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, Dean Drake with the consulting company the Defour Group, Scott Zaremba, president of Zarco Incorporated, and Ken Parrent, the ethanol director for the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, as they give their thoughts on how consumer demand will be a bigger driver for higher ethanol blends after attending an Indiana Corn Growers Association ethanol forum that focused on marketing mid-level ethanol blends and ran following the recent 2014 Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Indianapolis.
“During your time in office you have supported the development and growth of the biodiesel industry. Now, biodiesel producers around the nation have the ability to generate nearly two billion gallons a year of the only EPA-approved advanced biofuel, which is commercially available across the United States,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Obama. “Therefore, we believe now is not the time for a critical shift in biodiesel policy. We urgently ask that you raise biodiesel’s RVO for 2014 above 1.28 billion gallons.”
The letter, which was led by Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., can be found here. The lawmakers signing the letter represent 22 states.
In a draft RFS rule released in November, the EPA proposed holding biodiesel volumes at 1.28 billion gallons – a sharp drop from last year’s actual production of nearly 1.8 billion gallons. Biodiesel producers around the country have warned that such a proposal will cause severe contraction in the industry. A nationwide survey of producers conducted by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) in April found that more than half have already idled a plant this year and 78 percent have reduced production from last year. Nearly two-thirds – 66 percent – have already laid off employees or anticipate doing so.
NBB officials have previously expressed their shock and disappointment on the proposal because of the success biodiesel has already shown in exceeding the targeted amounts of renewable fuels. They call on the Obama Administration “to finalize a strong RFS volume as quickly as possible.”
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said earlier this year that they planned to issue a final rule on the proposed volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in “late spring or early summer” but spring is gone and summer is here and there’s been no word yet.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said last week that he thought the decision was delayed now until fall. “The fact that they’ve delayed it is a little bit of good news,” he said during an interview on June 19. “The bad aspect of it is that it retards investment in ethanol … and it doesn’t just effect ethanol but biodiesel too.” Grassley said he really doesn’t know when the EPA will announce the final rule, although he does believe it will be better than the proposal released in November. “I don’t think they’ll be that bad, but whatever is less than present law is going to be bad anyway, maybe just less bad.”
Meanwhile, Grassley says the wind energy industry, which is huge in Iowa, is still waiting on Congressional action to extend tax credits. “As a father of the wind energy tax credit, I want to get it renewed,” he said. “It’s part of a package of 53 renewals that have to be passed by the Senate and it’s up to Reid when he brings it up … we don’t get any indication from him on it.” Grassley says he will continue to push to make that happen.
If the administration wants to make changes in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) they should follow the law, according to Rep. Steve King (R-IA).
“The RFS is in statute and there are waiver provisions in there for the EPA, but they need to comply with the waiver provisions,” said King during an interview.
King notes that EPA used 2011 data in proposing volume requirements for this year under the RFS. “So we’ve asked them in hearings, discussions, pleadings, every way that we can … that we want them to go back and look at the 2013 data and go back and re-read the law,” he said. “If they make those adjustments appropriately, they’ll come back to what the law says.”
A bill to help rural areas get more power from the wind has been introduced. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and Tom Cole (OK-04) say their Rural Wind Energy Development Act will provide an investment tax credit to ranchers, farmers, and small businesses to offset the up-front costs of owning a distributed wind turbine.
Small wind turbines (generating up to 20 megawatts of clean energy) allow farmers, ranchers, and other consumers to cut their energy bills and, at times, sell power back into the grid. They also allow thousands of businesses—from “mom and pop” stores, to retailers, to ranches, and to breweries—to reduce their energy load, to help clean the environment, and to save money. The Department of Energy’s national laboratories estimate that community wind generates a strong economic multiplier for local communities, helping rural areas rebound from challenging economic times.
“Community wind energy not only creates American-produced electricity, but American jobs as well,” said Blumenauer. “Approximately 90% of distributed wind turbines sold in the U.S. are made here, according to domestic manufacturing content, creating non-exportable, family wage jobs.”
“I am pleased to once again work with my friend and colleague in furthering the success of the same credit we worked to create in 2008,” said Cole. “Not only does the credit play an important role in encouraging and developing an all-of-the-above energy approach for our nation, but it also ensures that America continues to be a leader in innovation. By modestly increasing this credit, we can continue to encourage economic development, especially in our rural communities.”
The bill is touted as taking away federal restrictions that work well for large-scale wind projects, but cause issues for the smaller producers.
A coalition of U.S. House of Representatives member opposed to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) claim that a bipartisan majority of members “have expressed concerns regarding the current ethanol mandate.”
In a press release, Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Steve Womack (R-Ark.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced that 218 Members of the House agree “there is a serious problem with the RFS.”
“It is telling that 218 members from both sides of the aisle, representing communities across the nation, have spoken out against the current RFS and called for reform. The flawed ethanol mandate has a real impact on the American economy, and legislation in the House to reform the RFS has drawn the support of more the 50 organizations representing a diverse range of issues. There is clearly a growing appetite to reform the ethanol mandate, and it is time for the EPA to address lawmakers’ concerns. Any day now, the EPA is expected to announce the final rule governing 2014 RFS levels. As the final rule is written, we urge Administrator McCarthy to carefully consider the concerns of a majority of House lawmakers in any decision and take action to reduce the burden of the RFS for 2014.”
A spokesperson for Goodlatte’s office says the 218 members of Congress referenced in the release is “a culmination of Members who have either cosponsored H.R. 1462 or H.R. 1461 or signed onto one of the many letters sent on the topic.” The office did not provide a list of members they say have “recognized there is a problem with the current RFS.”
Some seed money and a few years of production incentives offered by the state are finally helping open an ethanol plant sitting dormant since its building completion in 2010. This article from Petersburg, Va.’s Progress-Index says the Vireol Bio Energy LLC plant is up and running, and most importantly, selling ethanol.
The company will receive subsidies to operate from the commonwealth, because the Biofuels Production Incentive Grant was approved by the General Assembly this session. The bill was supported by Delegate Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, and Delegate Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe made the announcement that he signed the bill in early April, a couple of weeks after Hopewell City Council agreed to match a $250,000 grant from the state. The money will be disbursed in equal portions over two years.
Because of the grant, Vireol can receive $0.04 cents for every gallon of ethanol they produce and sell this year. The amount decreases by one cent in 2015, then to $0.025 in 2016. The subsidies will end in June 2017 and are capped at $1.5 million each fiscal year. Subsidies will not apply to fuel made from corn in 2016 or 2017.
The plant is expected to produce 170 million gallons of ethanol over the next three years, as well as buying more than $100 million worth of grain from local farmers.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has signed into law measures seen as good for ethanol and biodiesel in his state, a move much welcomed in an area that is a major player in the renewable fuel market. Branstad was joined by other state dignitaries, as well as officials from the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) and ethanol producer POET, which hosted the signing of Senate File 2344 at its Coon Rapids, Iowa refinery today. The new law extends the state’s biodiesel production tax credit and enhances the state’s E15 retailer tax credit.
“I’m proud to sign this renewable fuels bill that received such wide, bipartisan support from the entire Iowa legislature and promotes E15, biodiesel and bio-butanol” stated Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. “I have been a staunch supporter of protecting Iowa jobs and Iowa motorists’ access to cleaner, locally-produced renewable fuels, and this bill does exactly that.”
“Today is a great day for Iowa’s renewable fuels community,” stated IRFA Policy Director Grant Menke. “We commend Gov. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, and the entire Iowa legislature for standing beside renewable fuels, protecting Iowa jobs, and safeguarding consumer access to low-cost, homegrown biofuels.”
“We are excited Gov. Branstad selected our facility to mark the officially signing of this important bill,” said Bill Howell, General Manager of POET Biorefining – Coon Rapids. “The state of Iowa continues to be very supportive of the biofuels industry and this bill is yet another example of that support. Here at POET, we look forward to continued expansion of E15 throughout the state and nation, which will allow consumers to enjoy additional options at the pump.”
The law also defines biobutanol as a renewable fuel option for Iowans.
Biofuel trade groups and state corn growing associations say E15 is just another blend of fuel that gas stations can offer price-conscious motorists. Despite auto industry groups warning of the fuel’s impact on engines, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved it for use in vehicle models 2001 and newer.
“It’s bringing in another low-cost fuel to consumers,” said Bradley Schad, director of market development with the Missouri Corn Growers Association. “It’s actually helping drive the economy here in Missouri because we produce ethanol in Missouri.”
Petroleum groups are still pushing back on the new option, trying to say that vehicle engines will be ruined by the higher blend, but with 12 other states already approving the higher blend, even with the small number of stations selling E15, wouldn’t we be hearing about all these cars stranded by the sides of roads? So far, I’m not hearing those kinds of stories.
Funding for some rural renewable energy programs is taking a hit. Ethanol Producer Magazine reports the House Appropriations Committee cut the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) down to just $15 million, down from last year’s levels of $25 million, and Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) for fiscal year 2015 is proposed to be funded at just $30 million, down for 2014’s $50 million in mandatory funding and $20 million in discretionary funding for FY 2015. Meanwhile, the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance program is cut to $22 million, a major drop from previous levels of $50 million in mandatory FY 2015 funding, with an additional $75 million in discretionary funding for FY 2015.
The Agriculture Energy Coalition (AgEC) has released a statement in response to the draft bill, vowing to fight the changes to the Farm Bill’s popular energy programs. “The renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in the Farm Bill help rural America create new biobased manufacturing opportunities and stable, well-paying jobs,” said Lloyd Ritter, codirect of the AgEC .”The Energy Title programs were reauthorized in the five-year Farm Bill adopted by Congress just months ago, in February 2014, and received mandatory funding to allow for program stability and business certainty. The modest investments made through that bill would pay major dividends for energy security, economic growth, and environmental gains across the United States.”
“Just today, however, the House Appropriations Committee sought to roll back the Farm Bill, by targeting the successful energy title programs for changes in mandatory spending and blocking the USDA’s ability to administer them,” Ritter continued. “The Agriculture Energy Coalition, which comprises a broad group of renewable energy, energy efficiency and agricultural groups, will continue to fight to ensure that these programs are implemented properly.”
You can read the full draft of the legislation here.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse led a mission to promote U.S. agricultural exports in northeast China May 5-13. The mission is part of President Obama’s “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative, designed to help rural businesses and leaders take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new customers and markets abroad.
During a press conference Tuesday to talk about the trade mission, Davis said it was her first trip to China and she was astounded by the number of cars on the roads and sees a great need for both biofuels and distillers grains for livestock feed in that country. Miller added that China provides an excellent market opportunity for the U.S. ethanol industry.
The land of 10,000 lakes becomes the first for another 10… a 10 percent biodiesel mandate. The move from a B5 to B10 blending requirement for summer months starting this July 1st was welcomed by the growers of the most popular feedstock, soybeans.
“I’m very pleased that common sense is still alive and well and that our legislators voted for what was good for Minnesota,” says George Goblish, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) and a farmer from Vesta, Minn. “The decision to continue moving forward is good for air quality in Minnesota, energy diversity and its good for the economy.”
The escalation to B10 was part of a bill passed in 2008 which called for the move to happen in 2013. Because of inadequate blending infrastructure in on area of the state and a regulatory concern, the move was pushed back to 2014. Legislation brought forward during the Minnesota legislative session that ended May 16, attempted to derail the bill but was unsuccessful. B10 will be available at the pump from April through September. Supplies will revert to a B5 blend the rest of the year.
“This sends a very important message that Minnesota remains a leader, because the state’s B2 mandate back in 2002 really jumpstarted the biodiesel industry nationwide,” says Ed Hegland, an Appleton, Minn. farmer and member of the National Biodiesel Board’s governing board. “Proving that a state can now go to B10 is a significant step in the right direction for renewable fuels.”
The move is expected to create an additional 20 million gallons of biodiesel demand each year, in addition to the current 40 million gallons used annually. It will help make the blue skies even cleaner, as the current B5 requirement is credited with reducing particulate and greenhouse gas emissions the equivalent of taking 35,000 vehicles off the road and removing an estimated 644 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the air annually.
The manager of a biodiesel refinery from the Nation’s largest biodiesel producer believes the uncertainty in the green fuel’s future will disappear. I caught up with Bryan Christjansen, a general manager for Renewable Energy Group’s Albert Lea, Minn. and Mason City, Iowa plants, shortly after a news conference where several biodiesel producers joined with a group of U.S. senators to decry the uncertainty brought by the government’s proposal to lower the amount of biodiesel to be mixed into the fuel supply and Congress’ failure to renew the $1-a-gallon federal biodiesel tax incentive.
“Some of the things happening here on Capitol Hill, as well as in the White House, are not good for our industry. We are here, and [Congress and the Administration] have helped us get to this point, and we need to continue to grow this industry through what you guys have created already,” he said.
While Bryan said that the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal on the Renewable Fuels Standard is hurting the biodiesel industry by causing so much uncertainty, he is certain that will change.
“With this [news] conference and the open comment period with the EPA, I think we’ve voiced our opinion that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and what better way to do it than by producing biodiesel.”