OPINION: How much will it cost to change to E15? Really?

By Ron Lamberty, senior vice president, American Coalition for Ethanol | September 30, 2020

Most fuel marketers aren’t currently waiting to find out if they’re going to get part of the $100 million in Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) matching grant money that will begin being awarded any day now by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). If you are one of the 121 applicants waiting to hear from USDA, good luck! We hope you get good news soon, and thanks for making higher blends of ethanol available to consumers. We know you’ll be glad you did.

For those who didn’t apply for HBIIP grants, there’s still good news for you – even if it’s the same good news we’ve been sharing with marketers for almost a decade now: You probably don’t need a grant (or you need a lot smaller one) because you don’t need to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for new equipment to sell  (a.k.a. E15, unleaded15, unleaded88, UNL88).

Even before President Trump tweeted last month saying E15 can be sold in equipment approved for E10, it was a verifiable fact most existing retail fueling infrastructure is already compatible with E15. Yet most station owners had never verified it and are terrified of the cost of new equipment they think they’ll need to sell it.

If you’re a station owner and you’re terrified, you’re supposed to be. The persistent anti-ethanol misinformation campaigns of API, AFPM, and oil companies have created very real-appearing E15 capital expense monsters intended to scare marketers away from considering selling higher blends. If the cost were as high as retailers have been told it is, it WOULD be terrifying, and the horror story pricing has been so ridiculously high, most station owners thought it senseless to even check and see what the actual costs would be.

Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees are terrifying, too. Fortunately, just like those E15 infrastructure cost “monsters,” they are not real. Movie monsters are often unmasked at some point in the film, or if they’re not, the movie ends, the lights come on, and the monsters are gone. We want to help calm fuel station owners and operators’ equipment expense fears by shining the light on real-world E15 infrastructure compatibility with the recent addition of the “Flex Check” Compatibility tool to the flexfuelforward.com fuel marketer to fuel marketer ethanol information website.

Flex Check was created so curious station owners can find out what they really need to be E15 compatible – and they can find out on their own schedule, without having to get their pump and equipment company all wound up over a possible big sale opportunity. Some marketers will even be able to print out documentation needed to prove their stuff is compatible, and at very least, if you try it, you’ll know what you need (and don’t need) to sell E15, or shorten the list of things you’re wondering about. And most will find getting into the E15 business isn’t anywhere near as scary as they’ve been thinking. Heck, it can be downright simple… maybe even inexpensive.

It’s Halloween time. Don’t be a scaredy cat! Go there and check it out. If you’re not sure what you’ve got underground, every state has some kind of underground tank inventory, and you can either find links on the flexfuelforward.com website, or contact me at rlamberty@ethanol.org or ACE’s Chuck Beck cbeck@ethanol.org. We’re always happy to help, and if you ask nicely, we might give you candy.