The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced further information and details surrounding the application process for its Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP). The program makes available up to $100 million in competitive grants for activities designed to expand the sale and use of renewable fuels, with $86 million reserved for higher blends of ethanol. The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) is focusing its market development efforts, including the fuel-marketer-focused website flexfuelforward.com, on ensuring fuel marketers know about the funding and receive any assistance they need to participate. ACE Senior Vice President and Market Development Director Ron Lamberty provided insight to USDA during the initial HBIIP stakeholder meeting, and has been in close consultation with the USDA since. Lamberty released the following statement in response to the announcement:
“ACE is gratified to see many policies we recommended to USDA to make the program more accessible to single store and small chain operators were included in the final program. In particular, we appreciate the Targeted Assistance Goal (TAG) which makes approximately 40% of funds available specifically for applicants owning 10 fueling stations/locations or fewer. USDA is also offering applicants ‘consideration for geographical diversity and markets underserved by higher blends’ to help establish higher blend retail facilities in a broader geographic area, which ACE identified as critical to widespread E15 use in our recommendations to USDA.
“A very high percentage of existing stations could add E15 using mostly existing equipment, and USDA is structuring these grants so all fuel retailers — including single store and small chain owners — can receive assistance whether they need to perform simple conversions, upgrades or new infrastructure. Widespread E15 use is going to rely on conversions more than new construction, and ACE will focus on helping stations determine compatibility so they can add higher ethanol blends as quickly as they are able. Retailers may also need assistance with the application process, which USDA has assured us has been simplified as much as possible for a federal grant program. ACE will be helping retailers navigate the grant process by providing expertise, and when needed, financial assistance to give stations the best chance of receiving grant funding.
“ACE is uniquely suited to assist single-store operators — who own 62% of U.S. convenience stores according to recent NACS data. From its inception, ACE’s market development program has focused on helping station owners, primarily single store and small chain retailers, understand ethanol as an easy product addition that can provide a competitive advantage and a healthier bottom line. Owners who act now can use the USDA HBIIP to reduce their cost of getting ahead or keeping up with the competition, and ACE stands ready to help fuel marketers complete the application process and make the switch.
“While ACE continues to focus on securing immediate aid for the ethanol industry struggling to survive the catastrophic economic fallout of COVID-19, investments in infrastructure now will help secure long-term growth and help ethanol demand recover more quickly once the economy starts to open back up.”
For more information about the program, check for updates at flexfuelforward.com and www.rd.usda.gov/hbiip.