By ALISON SIDER
Valero Energy said it will have to spend two or even three
times as much as it did last year to comply with the federal
ethanol blending requirement due to the high prices of credits
it needs to buy under the law.
The company said in a presentation posted on its
website this week it will spend $500 million-$750
million buying the credits this year, compared to $250 million
in 2012 and $230 million in 2011.
Refiners have warned a price spike in the market for credits
they buy to comply with the ethanol blending requirements will
cut into their earnings and consumer wallets. They have urged
the Environmental Protection Agency not
to increase the volume of ethanol that must be blended into
motor fuel this year.
Under a 2007 law, the EPA
mandates a certain amount of ethanol be blended into the US
gasoline supply each year. When an ethanol maker produces a
gallon, the company receives a credit representing roughly that
The credits -- called Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs),
after the numerical code assigned to each gallon -- can
subsequently be bought by refineries to help meet the
Cost of the credits has shot up from 3 cents/gal in 2012 to
more $1/gal at one point recently. The price of the credits has
fallen to around 70 cents/gal as buyers appear to have pulled
back somewhat, said Denton Cinquegrana, executive editor at the
Oil Price Information Service.
"It seems to have found a bit of a comfort zone, though I
don't know if you can call that comfortable," Mr. Cinquegrana
said of the still elevated prices.
Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero, said it is difficult to
know exactly what is driving the opaque market, but it seems to
be driven by fears refiners will soon not be able to meet their
quotas due to a looming "blend wall" beyond which more ethanol can't be added to motor
fuel. "It seems like there's a lot of nervousness in the market
about the blend wall," he said, adding it appears there has
been a "run on RINs' with speculators hoarding them in
anticipation of higher prices in the future.
The EPA's proposal for this year, which could be made final
as soon as next month, could force refiners and fuel importers
to use upwards of 14 billion gallons of ethanol. Unless demand
picks up, that would mean ethanol would comprise more than 10%
of US gasoline, a proportion refiners say is a firm upper
Valero said Tuesday that suggestions refiners sell fuel
blends with 15% ethanol for newer vehicles are unworkable
because car manufacturers don't recommend drivers fill up with
higher ethanol-content fuel.
Raymond James analysts wrote in a note Wednesday the
ultimate cost to Valero is still a question mark, since costs
of complying with the fuel mandate will likely be passed on to
consumers. "Ultimately, this cost figure gives investors
something to point to, but still doesn't solve the entire
puzzle as higher gasoline could likely offset this RIN cost,"
the analysts wrote
Valero said Tuesday high RIN prices will flow through to
consumers and will drive up prices at the pump by encouraging
fuel makers to export gasoline to markets that don't have
blending requirements and will lower imports of gasoline and
diesel, as well.
The solution, the company said, is to eliminate or reduce
the renewable fuel standard or to make ethanol blenders, not refiners and
importers, responsible for compliance.
Dow Jones Newswires