Senator calls for explanation of ethanol’s volatile value

By Mario Parker
Bloomberg News

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden asked the Environmental Protection Agency for data that would explain recent volatility in ethanol Renewable Identification Numbers.

The value of RINs, certificates used by refiners and the EPA to show compliance with government biofuel mandates, reached a record $1.06 on March 8 from 7.1 cents on Jan. 7, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Petroleum interests and ethanol proponents have been battling over the reason for the surge in prices and its effect on the cost of gasoline at filling stations. The credits are a mechanism of the Renewable Fuels Standard, a 2007 energy law that calls for an escalating amount of biofuel consumption.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, chairs the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“Given that ethanol is an increasingly important factor in the cost and supply of motor fuel in the U.S., it is critical that the committee have a better understanding of the causes and effects of RIN market volatility and developments,” he said in a letter to the EPA today.

RINs for the corn-based variety of ethanol were unchanged yesterday at 70.5 cents, while the advanced certificates, which include biodiesel and Brazilian sugarcane-based ethanol, slipped 1.3 percent to 75.5 cents, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Gasoline Demand

Gasoline demand is projected to average 133.5 billion gallons in 2013 and 2014, the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, said in its March 12 Short-Term Energy Outlook. Under the 2007 energy law, the U.S. is required to use 13.8 billion gallons of ethanol this year and 14.4 billion in 2014. Ethanol is typically combined with gasoline in a 10 percent ratio, which is referred to as the blend wall.

The American Petroleum Institute said March 20 that it commissioned a study by NERA Economic Consulting that shows the country’s ethanol law will boost gasoline prices by 30 percent and affect the U.S. economy.

The Renewable Fuels Association, a Washington-based trade group, says oil interests are manipulating the RINs market in an attempt to dismantle the biofuel mandate, and prices for the certificates would ease if refiners sold higher blends of ethanol in gasoline.

Read FuelFix’s ongoing coverage of the ethanol debate: