EIA: Plenty of Potential, But Hydro Limited by Economics

A new study by the Department of energy shows there’s great potential for hydroelectric power in the U.S., but the economics of the situation keeps more power from being added. This report from the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) cites work by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) that shows there are 61 gigawatts (GW) of hydroelectric power potential in waterways without existing dams or diversion facilities. However, the projected capacity to be added is only 2 GW through 2040.
eiajuly10report1
The report quantified the technical resource capacity available at more than three million U.S. streams, qualifying its findings by saying “the methodology alone does not produce estimates of generation, cost, or potential impacts of sufficient accuracy to determine project-specific feasibility or to justify investments.”

Although resource potential quantifies maximum feasible capacity additions, EIA’s AEO2014 Reference case also considers market and policy hurdles that can limit actual development of a new hydroelectric power plant. These include economic factors, performance characteristics, federal regulations, electricity demand, and the cost of competing sources for new generation. Because hydropower is a mature technology, most of the technically and economically superior sites have already been developed.

The report does provide new information to assess the technical potential of hydropower and improve the understanding of resources that can take advantage of new technologies such as in-stream turbines.

Optimus’ Bolt-On Biodiesel Solution Gets EPA Approval

optimusHardware and software that bolt onto diesel truck engines and allow pure biodiesel to run through the system has gained some key approvals from the U.S. government. Optimus Technologies is the first to receive the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval for an advanced biofuel conversion solution for existing medium‐ and heavy‐duty trucks. This company news release says that while the system can be used with a wide variety of fuels, this also marks the first time anyone has been able to be compliant with 100 percent biofuels, creating opportunities for ethanol refiners as well.

The solution is based on a combination of Optimus’ Vector bi‐fuel (diesel or biofuel) conversion system ‐‐ hardware and software that bolts‐on to existing diesel engines ‐‐ and certified, pure biofuel. Fuels tested were derived from a variety of bio‐sources including non‐food grade corn oil, recycled cooking oil, and pure biodiesel (B100). While Optimus may be first to the U.S. market, such solutions have been available in Europe for more than a decade.

“We’re very excited that the EPA has approved our technology,” said CEO Colin Huwyler, “Our solution represents a tangible opportunity for fleets to shrink their operating costs while improving the environment. And, our solution does not require multi‐million dollar start‐up costs like CNG does.” Fleet operators have been surprised to find that CNG solutions require capital‐intensive modifications to fueling stations and maintenance facilities, extending payback periods well beyond 5 years. Optimus’ solution can leverage current facilities with only minor modifications, offering paybacks as little as one year.

The news release goes on to point out that a network of biofuel suppliers are supplying the fuel at the standard Optimus needs.

“We are very glad that Optimus has secured EPA approval,” stated Rory Gaunt, CEO of Lifecycle Renewables, a leading renewable fuel provider based outside of Boston, MA. “We have been a strong supporter of Optimus’ efforts. Now, we will be able to expand our market reach and grow into servicing commercial and government fleets with our high quality, renewable fuels.”

Emissions testing shows that Optimus has a significant overall reduction in tailpipe emissions in comparison to diesel, with particulate matter reduced by about 40 percent.

EPA Chief Hopes RFS Rule Coming “Soon”

epa-mccarthyEnvironmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy held a conference call with media this morning in advance of her trip to Missouri this week to talk about the proposed Waters of the United States rule, or WOTUS.

I had the last question on the press conference and took the liberty of going off topic to ask about when the final rule on the volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) would be released. “I’m hoping it will come out soon,” she said. Explaining about the delay in releasing the final rule, which was expected by the end of June, McCarthy said it has become clear that there is concern “not only about what the volumes of the fuels are but the way in which we are adjusting those volumes.”

McCarthy stressed that the administration “continues to have a strong commitment to biofuels” and they want to make sure the final rule “clearly reflects that interest.”

“My goal is always to make sure we get it right,” she concluded.

Listen to McCarthy answer the question here. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on RFS rule release

Vermont Low Sulphur Requirement is Biodiesel Boon

As of July 1, Vermont has a new, low-sulfur requirement for all fuel oil in the state, and that could be a boon for biodiesel. In a news release from Gov. Peter Shumlin touting the new requirement of 500 parts per million on July 1, 2014, and 15 parts per million by 2018, along with a new Thermal Energy Finance Pilot Program to help Vermonters improve efficiency in their homes, the state says it is joining Massachusetts and New Jersey for such a requirement.

“Since more than half of all Vermont home owners currently choose oil heat, the low sulfur fuel mandate now in effect will greatly lower emissions and improve air quality,” said Matt Cota, Executive Director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. “It will also maximize efficiency and reduce service calls on existing systems, while allowing more Vermonters to install high efficiency oil heat units that require low sulfur fuel.”

whitemtnThe Stowe (VT) Reporter says the governor got a chance to check out firsthand… and first-nose… just how much cleaner boidiesel will be in helping meet the low-sulfur requirement during a news conference at White Mountain Biodiesel.

[The goverrnor] took a big sniff of the new low-sulfur fuel — organizers encouraged people to stick their fingers in it and take a whiff; it’s nothing like the heating oil they’re used to.

Biodiesel heating fuel emits 89 percent less greenhouse gases than regular heating oil, said Bob Kuhsel, a managing member of White Mountain Biodiesel, LLC. The New Hampshire company supplies biodiesel created from leftover cooking oil to Bourne’s and other fuel dealers.

For more information on biodiesel-based heating oil, check out the National Biodiesel Board’s Bioheat website.

Iowa Biodeisel Maker Counters Tax Group Argument

westerndubuque1A biodiesel producer is disputing claims by a taxpayer watchdog group that says producers of biofuels shouldn’t still be getting government assistance. This article in the Dubuque (IA) Telegraph Herald says a report by Taxpayers for Common Sense shows that Western Dubuque Biodiesel in Farley, Iowa received more than $2.5 million in tax-funded assistance between 2009 and 2014, and the group pushes for the elimination of the bioenergy program in the federal farm bill. But Tom Brooks, general manager of Western Dubuque Biodiesel points to the good biodiesel has done in Iowa alone, producing 230 million gallons of fuel in 2013 and more than 7,000 jobs in the state.

Brooks said the government assistance is necessary to level the playing field with oil companies.

“Government has always had a hand in to help starting industries. Big Oil has had a hand up for over 100 years to the tune of several hundred billion dollars in tax supports that they still draw today,” Brooks said.

The watchdog report also makes a point of highlighting large agribusinesses that are benefiting from government assistance. Companies like Renewable Energy Group, Louis Dreyfus and Cargill received roughly $10 million each or more between 2009 and 2014, the report says.

Brooks said it is unfair to lump Western Dubuque Biodiesel in with those companies.

“I’m in the big, booming metropolis of Farley,” Brooks joked. “The (report) suggests we’re paying all these big companies. The vast majority of these producers are small.”

The article goes on to say that Brooks argues the report doesn’t take into account the savings for the country when biofuels reduce the dependence on foreign oil.

“What’s the cost to our taxpayers for those soldiers in Afghanistan and the Middle East? For every gallon of oil we buy not from the U.S., you’re giving to a foreign country’s economy and they may not exactly share our political values, let alone our moral values,” Brooks said.

NBB Touts Minnesota’s New 10% Biodiesel Mandate

mnAs Minnesota becomes the first in the nation to require all diesel this summer have at least a 10 percent biodiesel blend, the National Biodiesel Board is touting the move… and the green fuel’s benefits.

“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.

Iowa Congressman Visits Biodiesel Producers

braleyCongressman 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.

braley-biodiesel2A 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.”

DF Cast: Finding Ways to Increase Ethanol Blends

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.

Domestic Fuel Cast - Increasing Ethanol Blends

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

Lawmakers Ask Obama to Boost Biodiesel

epa-logoAs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is poised to release its decision on the amount of biodiesel and ethanol to be mixed into the nation’s fuel supply (and we’re hearing word now that decision might be delayed until the Fall), a bi-partisan group of lawmakers is making its appeal to the White House to allow biodiesel to keep growing. This news release from the National Biodiesel Board cites the letter from 52 lawmakers who are concerned about the EPA’s current proposal to reduce the amount of biodiesel to be required for obligated parties under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)

“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.”

Biofuels and Wind Waiting on Action

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.

grassley-headSenator 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.

Iowa’s Steve King Urges EPA to Follow Law on RFS

steve-kingIf 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.”

King made those comments during an interview at World Pork Expo in Des Moines last week.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) RFS comments

Rural Wind Energy Development Act Introduced

capitol-buildingA 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.

House Members Claim Majority Want RFS Changed

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.”

USCapitol22In 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.”

State Incentives, Grants Help Open VA Ethanol Plant

virginiaflagSome 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 Gov Signs Biodiesel, Ethanol Measures into Law

irfa-poetIowa 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.