By Timothy J. Rudnicki, Esq
The current legislative session in Minnesota has been filled with policy and finance bills. For instance, 1,824 bills have already been introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives. In the Senate, 1,572 bills have been introduced. But among the more than 3,000 bills are two which can unlock and unleash the full energy security, economic, environmental and consumer benefits of renewable ethanol made in Minnesota.
The key to unlocking all this potential is currently in the hands of legislators and embodied in House File 1257 and Senate File 1277.
First, a bit of context.
Minnesota Statute 239.7911 calls for at least 25 percent biofuel use within the transportation fuel market by 2020. As of 2015, ethanol comprised approximately 12.47 percent of transportation fuel in Minnesota. The gap between the 2015 metrics and the 2020 target can be bridged, in part, with a robust program to help fuel retailers make some technical decisions and install the most appropriate and cost-effective fuel storage and dispensing systems so they can offer E15 and higher blends to consumers.
Although Minnesota ethanol producers can supply the transportation sector with more renewable biofuel, some fuel storage and dispensing equipment needs to be adjusted or replaced to handle E15. Both House File 1257 and Senate File 1277 provide the necessary funding for technical assistance and appropriate technology so fuel wholesalers and retailers can ween themselves from foreign oil. More importantly, more stations will be able to dispense E15, thus increasing access to a clean, locally-produced fuel that is growing in popularity.
While only 2 percent of retail fuel stations in Minnesota are equipped to offer E15 (also known as Unleaded Plus), where E15 is available, consumers choose it. E15 sales in Minnesota hit an all-time high of 5.68 million gallons in 2016, nearly double the volume in 2015. In fact, each month in the fourth quarter of 2016 broke a new monthly record with 550,270 gallons (October 2016), 742,253 gallons (November 2016) and 841,589 gallons (December 2016). Moreover, the volume in December 2016 was 60 percent higher than the total recorded in December 2015 (528,171 gallons).
Millions of Minnesotans will benefit from this biofuel bill. But for solar and wind energy and biofuels, Minnesota imports all the rest of its energy. Using more biofuels made in Minnesota keeps energy dollars in the state. According to the 2016 ABF Economic Report, the Minnesota ethanol Industry supported about 18,000 jobs, contributed $2 billion to the GDP, paid $80 million to state and local taxes and, in more human terms, generated nearly $1.5 billion in household income.
When the legislators use the biofuel key to unlock the potential of made-in-Minnesota biofuel, additional benefits could flow to consumers. If, for instance, E15 was ubiquitous, based on current market conditions and demand analysis, annual fuel cost savings to consumers are estimated to range from $168 million to $240 million. Additionally, E15 could reduce air pollution while also reducing GHG emissions by an additional 358,000 metric tons annually or the equivalent of removing approximately 76,000 vehicles from Minnesota roadways.
Thus far, Minnesota legislators are taking some action on the biofuel key. On Monday, February 27, the Minnesota Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee held a hearing on the bill. The House Agriculture Policy Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on March 1. For those Minnesotans who support greater access to renewable biofuel made in Minnesota, now is the time to contact the Members of the House and Senate Committees to voice your support for House File 1257 and Senate File 1277.
In the final analysis, the key to unlocking more of the benefits of biofuels in Minnesota rests with legislators. While legislators have many public policy, economic, consumer, energy security and environmental reasons to use the biofuel key, they need to hear from you.