WASHINGTON — Retailers’ ability to sell E15 year-round has been a decade in the making, but advocates for the 15% ethanol blend are cautioning that growth in the short term will be relatively modest.
Just head of the summer driving season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized rulemaking that extended a waiver of seasonal Reid vapor pressure regulations to E15. Before this, retailers had been restricted to selling E15 in most markets to flex-fuel vehicles from June 1 to Sept. 15.
“This was an incredibly heavy lift for the EPA in a short period of time,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Washington, D.C., in a recent media call organized by the biofuel industry group on the final rulemaking. “I’m happy to eat some crow—I said publicly I didn’t think the EPA would get it done as quickly as it did. This is one time I’m happy to be wrong.”
RFA’s lobbying push for year-round E15 sales began nearly a decade and six EPA administrators ago, Cooper said, after the EPA approved the ethanol blend’s use in vehicle models 2001 and newer. Several large retail chains, including Sheetz, Kum & Go, Murphy USA, QuikTrip, Kwik Trip and RaceTrac, have added E15 to some locations, with more than 1,800 stations in 31 states selling the ethanol blend.
The EPA rulemaking provides regulatory certainty to retailers, and assures them that the investment will be sound, said Cooper. Casey’s General Storesannounced plans to add E15 to 60 additional sites this summer thanks to the rulemaking. Most recently, Nuvu Fuels LLC, Ada, Mich., said it would offer E15 as the standard blend at its two locations in Michigan this summer, alongside E10 and E85.
“This decision is consistent with the purchase patterns of our customers, follows consumer demand, and allows us to be highly competitive in the marketplace,” said Mitch Miller, CEO of Nuvu Fuels. “Now that we can reliably offer E15 year-round, we can confidently make it our biggest focus and offer our consumers better fuel choices to match their lifestyles. Higher biofuel blends give all drivers access to choices that are smart for their engines, kinder for the environment, and better for their wallets.”
Outside of the announcements from Casey’s and Nuvu, Cooper of RFA emphasized the incremental, if steady, growth outlook for E15.
“We’ve always said that the immediate impacts of the rulemaking will be somewhat modest,” said Cooper. “We’re not surprised the EPA agrees with that. It breaks down the door to longer-term growth, attracts retailers standing on the sidelines because they’re not interested in offering seasonal fuel.”
After factoring in the approximately 1,800 fueling sites that currently offer E15 and will sell it through the summer, and any new locations opening in 2019, the RFA expects E15 consumption to more than double from 300 million to 400 million gallons in 2018 to 700 million to 800 million gallons in 2019. Ethanol group Growth Energy recently announced that U.S. drivers have logged more than 10 billion miles with E15.
During the RFA conference call, Steve Walk, chief operating officer of Protec Fuel Management LLC, Boca Raton, Fla., which has installed E15 at more than 400 retail sites, said the ethanol blend is being offered as another choice, in response to consumer demand. Most recently, Protec partnered with Royal Farms and Carroll Independent Fuel Co.’s High’s chain on adding E15 to their sites.
“We’re not going to replace regular gasoline or midgrade gasoline or premium,” Walk said. “We’re not replacing a fuel—we’re giving them an option on the dispenser year-round that’s consistent. Demand will dictate the success.”