OPINION: Come on. Just check.

By Ron Lamberty, senior vice president, American Coalition for Ethanol | March 05, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced a new program to provide fuel retailers with $100 million for fueling infrastructure. Fourteen million is for biodiesel and $86 million is for equipment used to sell blends of 15 percent or more ethanol. We don’t know exactly when, or how much it will pay of what, but we know that’s a lot of money, and USDA plans to “publish application deadlines and other program information in the Federal Register this spring.”

Spring begins March 19. It ends June 20. While you’re waiting, why not look into what you might need and how much it would cost for your station to store and sell E15? Odds are it will be waaaay less expensive than you think. A Petroleum Equipment Institute letter to USDA six years ago said a lot of sites with newer dispensers could get the job done for less than 10 grand. Some much less. But certainly nowhere near the hundreds of thousands of dollars you’ve been led to believe by people who would rather you just keep buying gas from them. And if USDA is paying half? Or more? Come on. Just check.

You could go through a lot of steps to find out what equipment you have, compare it to NREL reports that said most tanks in the U.S. are already compatible, and had lists of just about everything – compatible or not – all the way out to the nozzle. Or call your equipment company and ask them. (That’s what I would do).

Last time USDA made a big chunk of money available for higher ethanol blend infrastructure, the process of getting the money was strange and had to be done very quickly. As a result, a lot of single store and small chain operators didn’t take part. We’ve been assured the process will be more easily navigated this time around, and even if it isn’t, we’re available to help. You’ve got some time to find out if adding E15 can be inexpensive, or if adding E85 might work, so when money becomes available, you can act, rather than complaining that somebody else got all the dough. Again.

Because ethanol costs less than gasoline, fuel marketers who make more E15 and flex fuel available to consumers gain customers and volume and put added pressure on their competitors to also offer higher ethanol blends – unless they want to lose market share. Owners who act now can use the USDA Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) to reduce their cost of getting ahead or keeping up with the competition, while those who resist change and whine about whether the world is fair will be left behind.

As ACE wrote in response to USDA’s request for information on a potential HBIIP, meaningful growth in E15 and flex fuel availability will require any infrastructure program created by USDA to assure ‘mom and pop’ c-stores they can afford to add E15 and participate in the program. We look forward to continuing to work with the administration to ensure successful implementation of the program to incentivize the highest number of locations available over the widest geography possible, and we look forward to working with station owners of all sizes to help you sell the fuels that have already helped a lot of station owners just like you survive and even gain an edge in a competitive fuels marketplace. To hear their stories and gather more information about E15, flex fuels, and help available to sell them, got to flexfuelforward.com.