OPINION: Helping retailers helps corn growers, ethanol producers

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development, Renewable Fuels Association | September 02, 2020

This summer, the Renewable Fuels Association was pleased to help many retailers make the most of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP), working through a complicated federal government application process. Clearly, with so many retailers seeing value in this program, we can expect to see more fuel locations with higher ethanol blends soon, supporting rural America’s farmers and ethanol producers.

HBIIP will make $86 million available to transportation fueling facilities to expand the availability and sale of higher blends of ethanol like E15 and E85/Flex Fuel. Now, USDA is reviewing the applications and expects to announce grant awards later this month. We’re grateful to the agency for launching the HBIIP program and understanding the fundamental link between renewable fuels and the farm economy.

With support from the National Corn Growers Association, RFA worked with Christianson PLLP and others to assist three dozen retailer companies in the grant process prior to the Aug. 13 application deadline. Submitted applications assisted by RFA cover more than 1,100 fuel dispensers and 128 storage tanks at 222 locations across 21 states. Combined, these locations sell more than 250 million gallons of gasoline annually. RFA provided services and assistance for $21 million in grant requests, which would be matched with another $31 million in private funding for a total investment in higher blends infrastructure of more than $52 million.

The feedback we have received from retailers involved in this is inspiring. Here are just a few testimonials:

 

    •“We sincerely appreciate all the assistance RFA and the team at Christianson provided in order to get our HBIIP grant processed in a timely fashion. Thank you for including us in your mission to support retailers with this grant program.” – Jill Curtorillo, Corporate Controller at Snappy’s convenience stores in Pennsylvania

 

    •“When we heard about HBIIP we were a bit apprehensive being a smaller retailer (23 stores) and not having previous grant writer experience. As we ventured into the process, we discovered it was more than we expected. [RFA] provided great guidance, reassurance, technical support and patience when the process proved to be a challenge. I look forward to working with Cassie and RFA in the future as we continue to explore additional opportunities in ethanol.” – Christian Whitehead, owner of Whitehead Oil Company/U-Stop Convenience Stores in Nebraska

RFA’s work included outreach to retailers via paid and earned media and educating hundreds of them in a series of webinars. Overall, we reached 35 state fuel marketer organizations and mor than 5,400 companies in 28 states; many of these we also helped obtain corn checkoff funding in their respective states. Technical reports were prepared for each applying company, each covering 35 to 50 pages in length, and site-specific environmental reports were submitted covering more than 2,200 pages.

The HBIIP process involved hours of paperwork and legwork, but it was a task that was absolutely worth the effort. In the next few years, we expect to see more and more stations come online that offer consumers a real choice in fuel – a choice that includes E15 and other higher blends of high-octane, low-carbon ethanol—benefiting not just consumers, but retailers, corn growers and ethanol producers.