Delivering ‘Big League’

FROM THE JANUARY ISSUE: Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor looks back on 2017.
By Emily Skor | December 19, 2017

In the spirit of setting a New Year’s resolution, at Growth Energy we’re reflecting on the previous year’s experiences to guide us as we begin anew, and considering our key achievements and missed opportunities to build the right kind of muscle memory to drive future success heading into 2018. The new administration came into power with a mantra of delivering “Big League,” and I will borrow that mantra to say that delivering “Big League” is exactly what the biofuels industry did this year. We went toe-to-toe against the most coordinated and well-funded attack on biofuels since the signing of the RFS2, and we came out on top.

The RFS faced existential threats from petitions, proposals and concepts that were levied both formally and informally. By coordinating with a broad spectrum of biofuels stakeholders, supporters and champions on Capitol Hill, we overcame those threats through sound strategy, swift action, disciplined engagement and a laser focus on landing punches when and where they mattered.

We led the charge to secure a landmark victory against efforts to upend the RFS by shifting the point of obligation. When the EPA issued its Notice of Data Availability that looked to ultimately lower blending targets for biofuels, we immediately rallied our Congressional champions to ensure that efforts to roll back the RFS would not be implemented. And we once again rose to the occasion when rumors began to swirl that the EPA was discussing attaching renewable identification numbers (RINs) to exported gallons of American ethanol. Though we still need higher blending targets on the cellulosic front, we successfully leveraged our unified voice to impact the new administration and saw 2018 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) for conventional ethanol set at 15 billion gallons. These are fundamental victories that the industry can be proud of.

While we haven’t yet achieved Reid vapor pressure (RVP) parity for E15 and higher blends, we made dramatic headway by broadening our base of supporters and positioning retailers as the new face of the RVP fight. This novel approach opened fresh avenues of collaboration with parties who were previously uncooperative or obstructive toward ethanol. We now have the momentum, and we have an EPA administrator who has pledged in writing to give RVP due consideration.

Our efforts with retailers to expand market access and consumer demand for higher blends was equally important to the policy fight. Through our work with Prime the Pump, we doubled the number of gas stations selling E15, which can now be found at nearly 1,200 stations across 29 states.

Selecting E15, E30 or E85 is a behavior change, and driving consumer demand is critical to delivering more sales of higher blends. We’re collaborating with retailers to identify the most important and persuasive E15 attributes to consumers so we can optimize the branding and marketing of the fuel, combining consumer research with in-market testing and experience.

With battles won and progress made, there are many positives to take from 2017, but of course we cannot be complacent. While we won several rounds, our success will only embolden our opponents further. We must continue to work every day to educate the administration on the importance of global trade and our need for U.S. government intervention to both open new markets and help eliminate recently erected trade barriers. We must also work toward strong 2019 RVOs that keep moving America forward. And Growth Energy has already begun working on our strategy around the RFS reset provision that looms on the horizon.

We’ll continue to lead on E15 development, exploring every opportunity to secure an RVP waiver and bring more retailers into the E15 fold, while also engaging consumers on the benefits of higher biofuel blends. We will validate engine performance through our NASCAR, Richard Childress Racing, American Ethanol Performance Team, and engine performance education initiatives. And we will continue our pan-industry collaboration to move the auto industry toward an E30 certification fuel.

2017 was a busy, exciting, and challenging year. 2018 surely will provide much more of the same, as well as new hurdles to clear. It is our great privilege at Growth Energy to meet those opportunities and challenges head-on for our members. I very much look forward to what we can accomplish together in this new year.

Author: Emily Skor
CEO, Growth Energy