OPINION: USDA’s higher blend grants are coming soon—we promise

By Ron Lamberty, chief marketing officer, American Coalition for Ethanol | August 03, 2022

Since early this year, we have been telling fuel marketers that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will announce they’ve got another $100 million in Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) grants available for station owners and operators who want to sell fuels with blends above 10 percent ethanol – in most cases, E15 and E85. I’m going out on a limb here, because as of the time this article is being written, there hasn’t been an announcement, and I’d understand if you stopped paying attention to all of us talking about the HBIIP program coming out “soon,” but give us one more chance. Please? I’m confident USDA will announce its third round of biofuel equipment grants sometime in August. Early August even.

Previous HBIIP programs covered up to 50 percent of the cost of installing new fuel dispensers and related infrastructure for higher blends of ethanol. In past programs, tanks and lines were eligible for a 25 percent cost share and retailers got 50 percent of the cost of most other infrastructure from USDA. However, the application process for previous HBIIP grants was cumbersome, and the timeframe to apply was short, making it virtually inaccessible for most single-station and small chain retailers. Hopefully, some of the more daunting parts of the application will be corrected in the round, but even if some parts remain challenging, all fuel retailers need to know there are plenty of people who want to help you get the money you need to offer your customers higher ethanol blends. 

One of the ways ACE plans to help is by hosting a workshop at the start of The ACE Annual Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, on Aug.10, featuring the Manager of the HBIIP program at USDA, Jeff Carpenter, who will walk through the application process with marketers who are able to attend. The workshop will include grant writers, ethanol association leaders, and others who can help marketers apply for funds and otherwise reduce the cost of adding E15 and/or E85, and retailers will also share their experiences making the switch, the help they were able to get from USDA and others, and the results of adding higher blends at their stations. Registration for the free even can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/e15-flex-fuel-retailer-workshop-tickets-372969350367. If you’re not able to attend, we will be recording parts of the workshop and again breaking the HBIIP application process into bite-sized pieces retailers can watch on flexfuelforward.com.

ACE has been working for changes to the HBIIP program that make it more accessible to single-store and small chain retailers, and USDA has indicated some of those changes will be included in the upcoming HBIIP grant offering. But even if the program is cumbersome for small retailers, we want you to know there are plenty of resources available to help navigate the application process and be able to get new equipment with a lot lower out of pocket cost, to compete with the big retailers who received most of the funding in earlier rounds. Contact us and we’re happy to help put retailers and resources together.

A hundred million free dollars and 50 percent cost share are both nice, and if you need new equipment, getting the money by being “forced” to offer grades of fuel that are higher octane and cost less than the fuels your competitors are offering seems like a no-brainer. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out most retailers could offer higher octane lower cost E15 using existing equipment and only a few small, inexpensive changes. You can check your equipment at https://flexfuelforward.com/toolkit/flexcheck/. EPA has a link to this “Flex Check” site on their resources page, too.