Linn Oil Embraces E15

Iowa retailer finds success in ethanol blend, despite industry concerns

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

MARION, Iowa -- This past September, Linn Co-op Oil Co. became the first retailer in the state of Iowa to sell E15. While many retailers have held off on introducing the ethanol blend because of liability concerns over misfueling--E15 has been approved only for 2001 or newer vehicles--Linn Co-op Oil had no reservations.

"It's another alternative fuel to the consumer," said Jim Becthold, service manager for Linn Co-op Oil, which is based in Marion, Iowa, and is a full-service fuel co-op serving Linn and Benton counties. "E15 is better for the environment and we have less need for foreign crude. It also creates jobs here."

At a September open house at the company's headquarters, E15 sales rose to provide more than 30% of Linn Co-op's fuel sales, thanks partly to a 15-cent discount on each gallon.

"E15 is bringing in many new customers to Linn Co-op," said Becthold in a press release on the event at the time. "During our open house event, I saw countless new faces from all over the county. Also, a great deal of our customers specifically asked for E15 and Friday's sales reflected that."

According to Becthold, E15 sales have averaged out at 7.1% of sales since mid-September, with E85 at 8.3% and E10 at 66.7% of sales.

When asked who is buying E15, Becthold told CSP Daily News it is primarily "the price-conscious consumer and people concerned with the environment."

NACS has warned retailers that liability and regulatory compliance concerns surrounding E15 have not yet been completely cleared up. However, as far as Linn Co-op is concerned, it has sufficient safeguards in place.

"As long as you have an E15 misfueling mitigation plan and follow it, you should have little to worry about," said Becthold. "We look at each person's vehicle when they pull up to make sure the vehicle is 2001 and newer. If there is any question as to it being 2001 and newer, we go out to see if it is and we have turned away some." Because the retailer's pumps are open 24 hours a day—but not necessarily staffed that entire time—it relies on pump labels educating the fuel consumer about who can use E15 as an additional safeguard.

"The key to selling more E15 is to educate the public more," said Becthold. "Once the public recognizes E15 as another alternative fuel, more and more stations will start to carry it."

To spread the word on E15's availability at Linn Co-op, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA), Iowa Corn and the Iowa Power Fund Community Grant Program sponsored a media campaign including radio and print ads, billboards and direct mail, which ran through September. According to Lucy Norton, managing director of IRFA, promotional assistance is available to any Iowa retailer who offers E15.

Iowa is the epicenter of renewable fuels production in the United States, with 13 biodiesel facilities and more than 40 ethanol refineries with an annual production capacity of 3.7 billion gallons.