Ethanol takes center stage in Watertown

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Farm Forum

Cars were lined up at the Sioux Valley Co-op on East U.S. Highway 212 on May 6 to take the “E30 Challenge.”

The event, sponsored by Glacial Lakes Energy, was meant to promote the use of E30-blend fuel in non-flex-fuel vehicles. Those filling up with E30 on Friday received 30 cent discount per gallon purchased. In addition, GLE is donating 30 cents of every gallon of E30 purchased to the Watertown Boys and Girls Club.

“Our goal is to make Watertown the most E30-friendly city in the country,” Glacial Lakes CEO Jim Seurer said.

Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Watertown, Liz Christianson, said she was excited her organization could team with GLE in the promotion.

“We’re really proud to be part of this partnership and join efforts to promote this E30 product in Watertown. It’s really kind of an exciting time to be part of the promotion. Their gift will help us raise funds for our capital campaign efforts, which will work to expand the Boys and Girls Club facility here in the next couple of years.”

On hand for the event were a Congressional candidate and a couple of long-time advocates of the ethanol industry.

State Rep. Paula Hawks of Hartford, the Democrat challenging Rep. Kristi Noem said she was in town to “listen and learn” about what GLE was doing with the E30 challenge.

“I’m curious to know how they’re promoting the E30 blend, some of the challenges they’re facing, and to talk about how they’re going to meet those challenges and get their voice heard,” Hawks said.

Dave Hallberg, founder and first CEO of the Renewable Fuel Association in Washington, D.C., the largest trade association in the ethanol industry, called the event “The South Dakota Tea Party.” A Clark native, Hallberg has worked for over 30 years in the ethanol and biofuels industry, said Watertown is a leader in promoting ethanol.

“Watertown is far out in front of everybody. We have 200 ethanol plants in this country, and I think a lot of them are going to be going to school on this, and doing the same thing,” Hallberg said.

According to Hallberg, automakers are beginning to join the voices advocating for E30.

“The big thing that’s happening in Washington right now, especially with the automakers and EPA is they’re re-evaluating the greenhouse gas fuel efficiency reduction CAFE rule. The automakers need higher-octane gasoline. They need higher-compression engines; you can’t get that unless we get the octane up. E30, 94 octane, is the sweet spot, it’s the fuel that they’re looking for.”

There are also environmental benefits to E30, Hallberg said.

“I’m a technical consultant to the Urban Air Initiative and we know the environmental benefits of this are just fantastic, so everybody wins.”

While the EPA was resisting E30, advocates were making progress in Washington.

“We’re working with the Department of Energy, (Sec.) Tom Vilsack of the USDA, (former Sen.) Tom Daschle helping to talk to the White House, and we hope to have the EPA see the error of their ways.”

Orrie Swayze, of Wilmot, a farmer, former South Dakota Corn Growers Association president, and pioneer ethanol advocate was also in Watertown for the event. Swayze said Watertown has played a key role in the development of the ethanol industry.

“You can’t talk about the history of ethanol without talking about Al Kasperson. Al put the first flex-fuel vehicle on the road back in 1992 as Lake Area Tech Auto Department head. He helped the corn-growers get it on the road. So, everything kind of comes back to Watertown, and the support of the community, Lake Area Tech, and Al Kasperson.”

Swayze was encouraged by the success of the event.

“It’s really encouraging to see; this is a tipping point,” Swayze said. “Otherwise, it was a few outliers, rebels putting half-E85 in. Now it looks like it’s going to go mainstream. I’m really pleased.”

E30 Challenge events were also held at the Prairie Stop and the Cowboy Country Store #2.

While the Environment Protection Agency does not officially approve the E30 blend outside of vehicles designated as flex fuel capable, GLE maintains that all non-diesel vehicles can use an E30 blend of gasoline made after 2001, and the benefits of E30 include greater engine efficiency, reduced carbon emissions and the reduction of American dependence on foreign oil.

Dale Christensen, GLE board member, said E30 blend fuels reduce the use of other additives in fuels, such as benzene, which he said can have negative effects on health, especially in children. Beyond the heath benefits, he said E30 would benefit the farm economy.

“I’d rather put fuel in my car from a cornfield than I would from the Saudi Arabia fields, that’s the bottom line. It’s good for our economy, and if we could use E30 and everybody got on this movement, we could probably do wonders for the farmers.”

According to GLE, E30-blend fuel is available in Watertown at the three stations holding events, the other two Sioux Valley Co-op locations in town and Stones Truck Stop.

Seurer said the promotion will run through the month of May.