Priming the Blender Pump

Gas retailers can REAP funding rewards from new USDA program

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced a program that will provide funding to gas station owners for the installation of blender pumps. The USDA is issuing a rule to clarify that the definition of renewable energy systems in the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) includes flexible-fuel pumps or "blender pumps."

The Obama administration has set a goal of installing 10,000 blender pumps nationwide within five years.

Vilsack had initially planned to announce the program at Greensboro, N.C.-based dispenser manufacturer [image-nocss] Gilbarco Veeder-Root, said an Associated Press report; however, he canceled the trip because of the ongoing budget negotiations in Washington. He made the announcement during a conference call with reporters.

"Flex-fuel pumps will give Americans a choice to purchase domestically produced renewable transportation fuels," Vilsack said. "USDA's energy programs are helping to build a clean energy economy, while creating green jobs here at home and making our nation more energy secure in the long-term."

Today, most gasoline sold in this country is a mix of 10% ethanol. Currently, there are as many as 8.5 million flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on U.S. roads, constituting about 3.2% to 3.5% of the approximately 250 million vehicles on the road. These FFVs can be fueled with E85 (a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline). There are approximately 2,350 fueling stations that offer E85 of the more than 167,800 stations nationwide. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the results of E15 testing on vehicles years 2001 and younger. EPA's findings confirms there are additional vehicles on the road able to take advantage of higher ethanol blends than currently available at your local, non-E85, pump.

In addition to blender pumps being eligible for funding under REAP, Vilsack noted that grants are available for audits of energy improvements and studies to determine the feasibility of renewable energy systems; and agricultural producers in no-rural areas are eligible for REAP assistance. Small businesses must still be located in rural areas. This clarification makes REAP eligibility requirements consistent with those of other USDA energy programs.

A Federal Register notice on these clarifications will be published soon. USDA will also host a series of informational meetings and workshops to explain the rule changes and to bring stakeholders together to advance retail blender pump installations.