Requests to Waive US Renewable Fuels Standard Denied by EPA

The U.S  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced it has denied requests from the Governors of Arkansas and North Carolina to waive Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volume requirements, based on the effects of the drought on feedstocks used to produce renewable fuel in 2012-2013. The petitions, filed in August, triggered a review process to determine if the implementation of the RFS requirements would severely harm the economy of those states.

After considering the nearly 30,000 comments received during the public comment period and empirical evidence, such as the prices of RINs and market commodities, the agency’s economic analyses did not produce sufficient evidence of severe economic harm that would warrant the granting of the waiver request. The EPA analyzed 500 scenarios and found no impact from the RFS program on corn, food or fuel prices in 89% of those scenarios. In the 11% of scenarios where RFS impacts were shown, the impact was less than a 1% change in corn prices. EPA acknowledged that “this year’s drought has created significant hardships in many sectors of the economy, particularly for livestock producers. However, the agency’s extensive analysis makes clear that Congressional requirements for a waiver have not been met and that waiving the RFS would have little, if any, impact on ethanol demand or energy prices over the time period analyzed.”

In its 83-page Notice of Decision (PDF file), EPA interpreted the waiver provision in a manner consistent with its prior response to the first RFS waiver request from Texas in 2008, which was also denied. In both cases, Section 211(o)(7)(A) of the Clean Air Act was interpreted as providing narrow authority. In order to grant a waiver, EPA would have had to determine with a high degree of confidence that implementation of the mandate would not only contribute to economic harm, but would itself severely harm the economy of the State or region requesting the waiver.

While the issue is politically charged, EPA’s decision making process in waiver requests focuses on the legal standard established by the Clean Air Act. The waiver is essentially a pressure relief valve for the program but is only available when the very high standard of severe harm is met. EPA utilized an updated version of an Iowa State University model to analyze 500 scenarios. In 89% of the scenarios, the model indicated that the implementation of the RFS program would have no impact on ethanol production and corn prices. This is consistent with the market reality that ethanol blending is driven primarily by factors other than the RFS, in particular blending economics and the value of ethanol as an oxygenate. A significant additional factor considered in the EPA analysis is the availability of rollover RINs from prior years that can be utilized by obligated parties. To the extent that rollover RINs are used this year, this factor would change significantly should similar drought conditions return next year. 

While this waiver request has now been resolved, interested parties continue to follow EPA rulemaking activities relating to the RFS closely. It is anticipated that the agency will address the issue of RIN fraud in a pending rulemaking. Thanks to my colleague Sara Bergan for her assistance in reporting the EPA's RFS waiver decision today.

EPA Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2012-0632

New Advanced Biofuels Practice Page and Legal Guide for Advanced Biofuels

Stoel Rives has long been a trusted advisor to the biofuels industry. Since the industry’s inception, we have assisted biofuel companies in launching ventures, obtaining financing, ensuring regulatory compliance, licensing technology, negotiating agreements, and leveraging incentives and government programs. As the industry has evolved and expanded, our practice has remained on the cutting edge while maintaining focus on the needs of our clients.

Today, we are pleased to announce the launch of our Advanced Biofuels practice. We have assembled an experienced team of attorneys capable of meeting the diverse needs of the emerging Advanced Biofuels industry. Our attorneys possess a wealth of expertise in the full range of relevant legal areas including intellectual property, regulatory issues, financing, mergers and acquisitions, litigation, real estate, permitting, and contract negotiations. Our advanced biofuel attorneys already represent multiple advanced biofuel companies and have invested time in learning the industry and its unique legal requirements. The backgrounds and experience of the team, along with additional resources and publications can be found on our new Advanced Biofuels practice webpage: www.stoel.com/advancedbiofuels

In conjunction with the launch of our website and the announcement of our Advanced Biofuel team, we are also releasing the Law of Biorefineries and Advanced Biofuels. This publication is the first of its kind, providing the industry with a guide to the legal issues that developers of advanced biofuels projects face. We hope that you find our resources informative, and we look forward to working with you in this dynamic industry. The new guide can be downloaded free of charge at www.stoel.com/lawofseries

Joint Agency Effort to deploy $510 Million to Support Drop-In Aviation and Marine Biofuels

Yesterday, President Obama announced that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (“USDA”), Energy (“DOE”), and Navy (“USN”, and together with the USDA and DOE, the “Agencies”) will invest up to $510 million over the course of the next three years to support advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to power military and commercial transportation. This is a follow up to President Obama’s Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future (the “Blueprint”).  In the Blueprint, the President expressed a desire to begin construction on at least four commercial-scale cellulosic or advanced bio-refineries over the next two years and challenged the Agencies to work together to spur the development of competitively priced substitutes for diesel and jet fuel.

The USDA, DOE and USN responded to the Blueprint by signing a Memorandum of Understanding  (the “MOU”). The MOU outlines a plan for the Agencies to partner with the private sector to construct or retrofit several drop-in biofuel plants and refineries. The agencies have stated goals of limiting our nation’s dependence on foreign oil for national, providing tactical and strategic advantages for our military and creating economic opportunities in rural communities. We expect that the USDA will take the lead on addressing feedstocks, the DOE will take the lead on technology, and the USN will be the initial primary consumer of the advanced biofuels.

 

Each of the Agencies have committed to spending $170 million over the next three years and an Executive Steering Group (the “ESG”) will be established to coordinate the programs. It is expected that the ESG will work with the Agencies to develop and release solicitations to industry beginning in December 2011. The solicitations will be issued in accordance with the Defense Production Act (50 U.S.C. App. 2061 et seq), the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act (15 U.S.C. 714 et seq), the Economy Act (31 U.S.C. 1535) and other appropriate authorities. Consequently, rights in inventions made as a consequence of, or in direct relation, of these solicitations will be administered in accordance with the applicable Agency’s governing laws and policies.

Unused ARRA Grant Funds Related to Electric Vehicles, Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Infrastructure Projects

Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition has announced that it has roughly $400,000 in unused ARRA grant funds available for alternative fuel vehicle and infrastructure projects. 

Examples of eligible vehicles include:

  • Vehicles using alternative fuels recognized by the Energy Policy Act (complete list here: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/epact/about/epact_fuels.html);
  • Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles;
  • Electric Hybrid Vehicles (including certain Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles);
  • Hydraulic Hybrid Vehicles;
  • Neighborhood Electric Vehicles; and
  • Certain Bio-Diesel Vehicles (if replacing gasoline powered vehicles). 

Infrastructure projects must be related to the storage, distribution, dispensing of advanced fuels or electric vehicle supply equipment. Examples of eligible infrastructure projects include:

  • New dispensing facilities, or additional equipment or upgrades to existing refueling sites;
  • Facility upgrades or building modifications necessary to accommodate alternative fuels for fleet garages and other maintenance centers;
  •  Solar charging systems dedicated to providing on-site vehicle motive electrification

Funding requests must be between $100,000 and $400,000 with a minimum 10% non-federal match. Precise requirements of this grant are located at http://www.pugetsoundcleancities.org/documents/CleanCitiesFY09FOAModification007.pdf

Show me the Money: Applications Available now for Washington's State Energy Program

On July 1, 2009, Washington State’s Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (“CTED”) issued application guidelines and forms for its State Energy Program (“SEP”) (available by clicking here). The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Recovery Act”) provided $60.9 million in new funding for Washington’s SEP. Subsequently, the Washington Legislature allocated $38.5 million to CTED to administer a loan and grant program for energy efficiency and renewable energy program (see our client alert, available here, regarding the legislative action). 

Eligible energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean energy projects may be eligible for SEP funding between $500,000 and $2 million.

 

Eligible energy efficiency projects are those that use technologies that have been deployed at commercial scale that result in the reduction in energy consumption through increases in the efficiency of energy use, production, or distribution, and high-efficiency cogeneration. Ineligible projects are those that are eligible for Recovery Act Funding for community wide urban residential and commercial energy efficiency upgrades as described in (i) Chapter 379, Laws of 2009; (ii) Low income weatherization projects and programs which are eligible for funding through the state’s low-income weatherization program; (iii) Loans support to financial institutions for energy efficiency projects as described in Chapter 379, Laws of 2009; (iv) state energy efficient appliance rebates; and (v) green jobs training as described in Chapter 536, Laws of 2009.

 

Eligible renewable energy projects are those that are located in Washington and use existing commercial scale technologies that generate liquid fuels, process heat or electricity using algae, bark, biodiesel, biomass, biosolids, food waste, fresh water, gas from sewage treatment facilities, landfill gas, geothermal, pulping liquors, sawdust, solar, hydrokinetics, wind, wood chips and various other waste products. Ineligible projects include those that use the following feedstocks: municipal solid waste, wood from old growth forests, and chemically treated wood.

 

Eligible clean energy innovation projects include are those that offer innovative new technologies or service delivery models for energy efficiency, renewable energy, or other areas of clean energy.   Projects must have a solid chance at commercial scale deployment within two to three years. Ineligible projects include carbon sequestration projects, lab scale projects, and those excluded under federal SEP guidelines.

 

Interested parties must file a notice of intent to apply by July 27, 2009 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific. 

Full applications are due on August 17, 2009 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific.

 

Information workshops will be held on July 13, 14, 15, and 16. Click here for the specific dates and times. I will be attending the July 13 workshop in Everett, WA. An informational webinar will also be held on July 23.

Advanced Biofuel Producer Payments - FY 2009 Deadline Approaching!

Advanced biofuels producers must enroll by August 11, 2009 to be eligible to receive payments from the USDA for FY 2009 production under Section 9005 of the 2008 Farm Bill.  Eligible producers of advanced biofuels may receive payments for advanced biofuels produced from October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009 (FY 2009).  $30 million is available for distribution under this program for advanced biofuels producers in FY 2009. 

The amount of payments made to individual producers will depend on the number of program participants and the volume of advanced biofuels being produced. Payments will be made in one lump sum to eligible producers after FY 2009.  Contact your local USDA Rural Development State Office for application materials or to learn more.
 

Show Me the Money: Renewable Energy Financing in the Farm Bill

In an earlier blog, my colleague, Debra Frimerman reported about the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).  REAP provides grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency improvements and conduct feasibility studies for renewable energy systems.

REAP is a program under the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (the "2008 Farm Bill").  The 2008 Farm Bill also includes numerous other programs to help develop renewable energy in rural areas and promote the production of sustainable feedstocks for renewable energy production.  Please see this recent alert for specifics.

 

National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap

The Department of Energy ("DOE") has issued a Request for Information ("RFI") to solicit feedback on the DOE's draft "National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap" (the "Roadmap").

The Roadmap was prepared by a working group commissioned by DOE.  The working group was commissioned to assess the current state of algae technology and to determine the next steps toward commercialization. 

DOE is specifically seeking feedback related to the following questions:

  1. What areas omitted by the Roadmap would be important in defining R&D needs as they pertain to the following topics?
    a.  Algae biology
    b.  Algae cultivation
    c.  Algae processing (harvesting and dewatering)
    d.  Extraction
    e.  Fuel conversion
    f.   Fuel end-use
  2. Are there any additional, key areas that should be included or any areas that need further elaboration?
  3. Are there errors or misrepresentations of any information that need to be addressed?
  4. Is there over-representation of certain barrier areas relative to other areas that warrant editing?

To submit comments, complete the "Algal Road-Mapping: Request for Information (RFI) Response Form" and submit it as an attachment  to an e-mail message addressed to algaeRFI@go.doe.gov
 

Comments must be provided by no later than 11:59 PM EDT on August 3, 2009.

 

$480 Million Available for Integrated Biorefinery Projects

Last week DOE released a new funding opportunity announcement for up to $480 million for pilot-scale and demonstration-scale integrated biorefinery projects. An integrated biorefinery uses an “acceptable feedstock” to produce a biofuel or bioproduct as the “primary product.” Acceptable feedstocks include:

  • Algae
  • Certain woody biomass
  • Renewable plant materials so long as it is not generally intended for use as food
  • Crop reside (cobs, stover, etc.)
  • Yard and food waste
  • Certain post-sorted MSW

The projects must be either pilot-scale (processing at least one dry tonne of feedstock per day) or demonstration-scale (processing at least 50 dry tonnes of feedstock per day).

The maximum award for a pilot-scale project is $25 million and the maximum award for a demonstration-scale project is $50 million. Generally, the cost share requirements from non-Federal sources are 20% for pilot-scale projects and 50% for demonstration-scale projects. 

Applications are due June 30, 2009. Although not required, DOE suggests all prospective applicants submit a notice of intent to apply, which can be submitted through May 29, 2009.

Visit www.grants.gov or www.fedconnect.net for more information on this opportunity.