OPINION: RFA burns midnight oil to assist retailers with HBIIP

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development, Renewable Fuels Association | February 03, 2021

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office announced the reopening of its Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) funding opportunity and gave retailers one more shot at a grant award, it set a tight 30-day application period that ended January 19.

In the first HBIIP funding opportunity, the Renewable Fuels Association was able to assist applicants secure funding in 22 states which will result in over $50 million in new ethanol infrastructure and bring almost 1,200 new blender dispensers to the marketplace. RFA was front-and-center once again on this second round, working up to the final hour to assist as many retailers as we could. In the end, we helped 11 companies in seven states submit applications for 47 locations that could result in 233 new higher blend dispensers where consumers can enjoy the benefits of higher ethanol blends.   

One retailer who worked with RFA in this second round is Power Midstream Express, who applied for HBIIP funding at that would add close to 100 dispensers at 15 stores in the greater Chicago area. Power Midstream Express operates dozens of stores throughout the Midwest under the Power Mart Express brand.  

According to the USDA, HBIIP was created to increase significantly the sales and use of higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel by expanding the infrastructure for renewable fuels. The program is also intended to encourage a more comprehensive approach to market higher blends by sharing the costs related to building out biofuel-related infrastructure.

We are already starting to see the effects of the first round of grants in the marketplace. For example, Iowa retailer Reif Oil was awarded funding for three sites and has already installed equipment at their Mediapolis location. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in Burlington, Iowa, Reif Oil Company is a family-owned-and-operated small business. Reif Oil’s wholesale fuel and dealer network provides fuel products to retailers and end-users in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota.

Following significant capital investments into their retail infrastructure over the last several years, Reif Oil Company now offers E85 at approximately 14 fueling positions and E15 at approximately 75 fueling positions across their company portfolio. In this latest round of funding, RFA assisted Reif with seven individual applications that could bring 28 new Ethanol blender dispensers to the Iowa market.

“This was a complex process and one that might turn someone away at first glance,” said Dave Reif, president of Reif Oil. “Thankfully, we were able to team up with RFA and get through it. “We are grateful to have an ally like RFA on our side and look forward to working with them as we continue our growth in renewable fuels.”

For retailers, HBIIP can provide the extra support needed to bring higher blends into their marketplace. The cost-share grants provide up to 50 percent of total eligible project costs, not to exceed $3 million per applicant.  The program will share the costs related to the upgrading of fuel dispensers (gas and diesel pumps), associated ancillary equipment, and other infrastructure necessary for a location to ensure the environmentally safe availability of fuel containing ethanol blends greater than 10 percent such as E15 and E85 or fuel containing biodiesel blends greater than 5 percent.

We’re looking forward to seeing this new round of grants announced and fulfilled, so we can help retailers move more low-carbon ethanol into fuel tanks around the country. For those retailers that might have missed out on this funding opportunity, there are some states and individual renewable fuel advocates that offer funding throughout the year. Please reach out to RFA for assistance in navigating these opportunities.