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Demand Destruction Part 2? Allowing Exports to Count Toward RFS Compliance

Submitted by on May 14, 2018 – 10:59 amNo Comment

by Geoff Cooper (Renewable Fuels Association) … Simply put, allowing exported ethanol to count toward compliance with an oil company’s RFS obligation would lead to further demand destruction for U.S. ethanol producers and corn growers who are already suffering the consequences of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s exuberant issuance of “economic hardship” RFS exemptions to dozens of small refineries. Further, allowing exports to qualify for the RFS would likely offset any benefit that would come from an RVP waiver allowing year-round sales of E15.

Using 2017 data, here is an example showing why such a proposal would further devastate an RFS program already reeling from dozens of small refiner exemptions:

    • For the purposes of this example, let’s pretend for a moment that EPA hadn’t already destroyed demand via small refinery exemptions and that the full 15-billion-gallon (bg) renewable volume obligation (RVO) was being enforced for 2017. Let’s also set aside the fact that any regulatory change allowing exports to count toward RFS compliance would surely be litigated and challenged under WTO obligations.
    • EPA data show that 14.86 billion conventional ethanol (D6) RINs were generated in 2017.[2] However, data from the Census Bureau shows 492 million gallons (mg) of denatured fuel ethanol was exported.[3] Because the entire purpose of the RFS is to drive domestic consumption of renewable fuels, the regulations were correctly written in a way that disallows exports from counting toward RFS compliance. Thus, while RINs were initially assigned to the 492 mg of denatured fuel ethanol that eventually was exported, those RINs were separated and retired when the fuel was exported (i.e., those 492 million RINs are not available for RFS compliance). It is important to note that RINs are assigned only to denatured fuel ethanol; thus, the 820 mg of undenatured fuel ethanol that was exported in 2017 never had RINs attached.
    • Therefore, of the 14.86 billion RINs generated for conventional ethanol, roughly 14.37 billion remained available for compliance, implying that about 14.4 bg of ethanol was consumed domestically (this excludes a small number of RINs retired for other non-compliance purposes). Not surprisingly, this corresponds to the Energy Information Administration’s estimate of 2017 U.S. ethanol consumption, which was 14.395 bg.[4]
    • This means there was a “gap” of roughly 600 mg between the 15-bg RFS requirement and actual ethanol consumption. It is the magnitude of this “gap” that determines prevailing RIN prices. If the gap is perceived by the marketplace to be large, then RIN prices will be higher, in turn stimulating growth in the consumption of higher ethanol blends like E15 and E85 to close the gap. If the gap is small, then RIN prices will be much lower as it is implied that there is less of a need to expand renewable fuel consumption to meet the RFS requirements.

 

    • So, in this example, how would obligated parties fill the 600 mg “gap” and demonstrate compliance with a 15-bg requirement? There are several options. 
        • First, they could blend non-ethanol conventional biofuels like conventional renewable diesel. Indeed, the EPA data show that 245 million conventional (D6) RINs came from renewable diesel in 2017, bringing U.S. conventional biofuel consumption to 14.62 bg and closing the “gap” between actual consumption and the 15-bg RFS to about 380 mg.

       

        • Second, they could use banked RINs from overcompliance in previous years, of which it is estimated there were more than 2 billion available as 2017 was coming to an end.

       

        • Finally, obligated parties can carry forward a compliance deficit for a year if they are unable to obtain the RINs necessary to demonstrate full compliance.

       

    • If denatured ethanol exports were allowed to count toward RFS compliance, the RFS “gap” in this example would have been erased entirely in 2017, as all 15.1 billion D6 RINs (14.86 billion RINs from conventional ethanol and 245 million from renewable diesel) would have remained available for compliance. RIN prices would have plummeted in this case, likely to 10 cents or less.
    • In all likelihood, if denatured fuel ethanol exports had been allowed to count toward RFS compliance, domestic consumption—and thus production—of conventional ethanol and renewable diesel would have been lower by roughly 100 mg (ethanol equivalent). This is because compliance with the 15-bg RFS could have been achieved with denatured fuel ethanol exports of 492 mg and about 14.5 bg of domestic conventional biofuel consumption, compared to actual U.S. consumption of 14.6 bg.
    • If ALL fuel ethanol exports (including undenatured ethanol that does not ever have RINs attached) were allowed to count toward RFS compliance, as suggested by some RFS opponents, the demand destruction in this example would have been far more severe. That’s because the 15-bg RFS requirement could have been met with 492 mg of denatured fuel ethanol exports, 820 mg undenatured fuel ethanol exports and just 13.7 bg of domestic conventional biofuel consumption. Such a scenario would have resulted in domestic conventional biofuel consumption falling more than 900 mg, or 6%, below the actual amount of 14.6 bg that was consumed.

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-biofuels-trump/trump-says-may-move-to-count-ethanol-exports-toward-biofuels-quotas-sources-idUSKBN1I919H

[2] https://www.epa.gov/fuels-registration-reporting-and-compliance-help/public-data-renewable-fuel-standard

[3] http://www.ethanolrfa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2017-U.S.-Ethanol-Trade-Statistics-Summary_CORRECTED2.pdf

[4] https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec10_7.pdf

READ MORE

 

BIOFUELS MEMO ON TAP (Politico’s Morning Energy)

Ethanol Exports and RIN Generation — The Stick at the End of a Carrot (Market Intel)

Trump to allow year-round E15 sales, attach RINs to exports (Ethanol Producer Magazine)

RIN cap declared dead, export scheme resurfaces at RFS meeting (Biodiesel Magazine)

ETHANOL INDUSTRY LEADER SAYS RINS ON EXPORTS WOULD DEFEAT THE PURPOSE (Brownfield Ag News)

Excerpt from Politico’s Morning Energy:  The White House is expected to release a memo on its proposed changes to the Renewable Fuels Standard, following a confab early last week on the topic. Ethanol and oil industry sources tell Pro’s Eric Wolff the document will lay out the permanent expansion of sales of 15 percent ethanol fuels. But it will likely be vague on other details, particularly around allowing ethanol exports to receive Renewable Identification Numbers, and how EPA plans to reallocate ethanol volumes lost due to the exemptions it granted to small refiners who complained the mandates were hurting their businesses. “What is totally unclear right now is how are they going to define the hardship exemption. They don’t have clarity on that,” said a refining source. “And the export RIN, does that stay forever, or does that go away at some point in time?” Read moreREAD MORE

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