Friday, November 15, 2019

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The Road to Net-Zero By 2050 Started Here

by Samuel Diamond


“Could we have a show of hands from people who support the resolution?” asked event moderator Charlie Uglietto.

In an instant, nearly all 300 heating oil professionals in attendance at the Northeast Industry Summit raised their hands, voting yes. Yes, we will reduce our industry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 15% by 2023 and 40% by 2030. Yes, we will achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. Yes, we do charge the associations and other groups present with the task of working together to accomplish these goals.

“Could I have a show of hands from people who oppose the resolution?” asked Uglietto.

Crickets: not a single hand was raised. This was no small gathering. The summit hall had been filled to capacity. Nary a chair was empty. In two adjoining rooms, those attendees who hadn’t secured a table in the main hall watched attentively via closed circuit TV.  

“This was unanimous?” NEFI President & CEO Sean Cota asked for clarification from the floor.

“This was unanimous,” confirmed Uglietto.

The room erupted in applause.

“I said earlier you were an amazing and extraordinary group of people,” said Uglietto. “You’ve proved it again to me today. Thank you for supporting our industry and giving us the ability to hopefully deliver an industry to our next generation and the generation after that.”

Cota took the podium and addressed the summit. “I can’t understate how important it is what you just did,” he said. “You voted for the next generation of this industry to go forward, and you voted for taking a risk to expand your market for the first time in generations. When you think about the challenges ahead... we are truly in a fight unlike we’ve ever been in before. For the first time, because of you, we have a direction where we can expand the market, expand our future and actually save the environment all at the same time.”

The room again erupted.

Even hours after the summit ended, at the HEAT Show hospitality night there was a palpable energy in the building. It was a sense of tremendous accomplishment, pride, camaraderie, hope and opportunity. This was not just another industry gathering where deals are pitched and meals enjoyed. This meant something greater.

The Road Here

How did we get here? How was it that so many longtime business leaders and association members were able to arrive at this consensus agreement?

Along with our partners at NEFI, Oil & Energy has been tracking the rise of climate activism as well as heating oil dealers’ increasing acceptance of renewable liquid fuels for many years now. It would take an entire issue of this magazine to summarize these developments. Suffice it to say that it’s been a long road to this point, but the pace increased dramatically following the 2018 mid-term election.

Since January of this year, a new wave of aggressive climate legislation has swept across the U.S. Northeast. At the same time, many discussions and proposals have been raised surrounding a federal  “Green New Deal,” which would decarbonize the country via completely eliminating fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy sources.

The local, state, regional and federal policies of greatest concern to fuel dealers were again outlined at the Northeast Industry Summit, with a presentation from Sean Cota and NEFI Vice President & Director of Government Affairs Jim Collura. Complementing this presentation, Vermont Fuel Dealers Association Executive Director Matt Cota and Maine Energy Marketers Association President & CEO Jamie Py addressed the “electrify everything” movement. This covered the “situation” side of the summit. (Other summit speakers included event moderator Charlie Uglietto, CEO of Cubby Oil & Energy; Paul Nazzaro, Sr., Industry Liaison to the National Biodiesel Board; Donnell Rehagen, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board; Michael Ferrante, President of the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association; Rocco Lacertosa, CEO of the New York Oil Heating Association; and Roberta Fagan, Executive Director of the Oil Heat Institute of Rhode Island.)

As for the “solution” side, heating oil dealers have been confidently selling biodiesel-blended Bioheat® fuel for decades. However, the past two years have seen biofuel and heating oil industry leaders working together even more closely on the policy front. For example, the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) was a strong supporter of the National Oilheat Research Alliance statute’s 10-year re-authorization, and NEFI has rallied its association partners to join NBB and the Advanced Biofuels Association (ABFA) in advocating on issues surrounding the Biodiesel Tax Credit, the Renewable Fuel Standard and small-refiner exemptions.

The emotional ties and shared interests between these industries’ stakeholders were perhaps illustrated best when NBB CEO Donnell Rehagen took the podium at the Northeast Industry Summit. “Many of the farms you see out in the Midwest are multi-generational, family-owned businesses just like yours,” he said. “These business leaders are excited to work with your industry and help it grow. We have a fuel that we believe is a really great product. That product, with your product, is an even better product.”

Of course, the transition to renewable liquid heating fuels raises a number of questions. Will there be adequate supply of renewable fuels to meet high blends, and how do we address transportation and infrastructure concerns? Between mandates and incentives, which is a better path to ensure a swift transition and widespread use? What equipment and storage concerns exist, and how do we address them? Which strategies are most effective in countering thermal electrification, and how do we educate consumers? How do we get legislators, regulators and other policymakers to see our product as critical to a low-carbon future?

Five one-hour breakout sessions were held concurrently during the Northeast Industry Summit, in which attendees came together to discuss these questions and hash out solutions. Afterward, the groups’ conclusions were presented to all summit attendees. Some of the answers are easy and immediately actionable. Others are more difficult and will require additional strategizing in the weeks, months and years to come. (Look for a summary of summit breakout conclusions, with follow-up commentary, in our November/December issue.)

Most importantly, there are answers. The Providence Resolution is the big one. It passed without objection.

The Road Forward

News of the Providence Resolution’s approval spread quickly thanks in part to a press release drafted immediately after the industry summit and distributed the next morning. Several industry leaders involved in the event contributed powerful quotes.

“I am thrilled that our industry came together to support a cleaner and greener future for our environment, our customers and the entire Northeast region,” said event moderator Charlie Uglietto. “Resolving to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint positions our industry as a key player in the climate change discussions happening in halls of government, local communities and dinner tables across the country.”

“The heating oil professionals gathered here represent the backbone of Main Street America,” said Sean Cota. “These companies are already delivering renewable liquid heating fuels, and this resolution doubles-down on our ongoing commitment to help protect the environment and ensure a sustainable future.”

“The heating oil and biodiesel and renewable diesel industries work together to provide homes and businesses with low-carbon fuel options,” said Donnell Rehagen. “We are excited to see this partnership strengthening and look forward to a continuing collaboration.” In a later email to NBB members, Rehagen expounded on these remarks, calling the Providence Resolution “a significant market signal, and opportunity for growth, for Bioheat® fuel.”

“I’m excited to continue working with our partners in the heating oil industry as they continue the transition to a zero-carbon liquid fuel industry,” Rehagen added. “We have worked alongside some great leaders to get to this point and it is clear to me that our industries will grow ever-closer in the coming years as the heating industry migrates away from petroleum to, eventually, 100% renewable fuel. Their vision and decisive action should be commended. Our industry has a tremendous opportunity in front of us in the Northeast and this resolution solidifies biodiesel’s role as the future of home heating.”

Numerous media outlets and trade journals ran the Providence Resolution press release in the days after its publication, including MarketWatch, Yahoo Finance, WFMZ-TV Allentown, Chicago Daily Herald, Vermontbiz, VT Digger, Oil & Energy, Biodiesel Magazine, Fuel Oil News, Indoor Comfort Marketing, Engineered Systems, Biofuels Digest, and Energy News Network, among others.   

Additionally, just eight days after the summit, the Providence Resolution received a major endorsement when the Empire State Energy Association (ESEA) Board of Directors voted to ratify the resolution during their September 24 meeting at the Empire State Energy Conference in Buffalo, NY.

“New York has long been a leader in environmentally friendly home heating,” said ESEA Executive Director Kris DeLair. “Our industry remains committed to ushering in a more sustainable future for our businesses, our customers and our communities,” she said. “This is a great day for all of us.”    

“We applaud the strong support for the resolution from our association partners in New York,” said Cota. Taken together, New York and New England serve 60 percent of American homes that utilize heating oil or biofuel-blended products, delivering more than 3 billion gallons annually. “Our industry’s transition to renewable liquid heating fuels offers the quickest, most cost-effective and least controversial path to dramatic cuts in carbon emissions in the Northeast.”

There were some questions among the public regarding the meaning of “renewable liquid heating fuels,” a general term that refers to blends of heating oil with biofuels such as biodiesel, renewable diesel and/or ethyl levulinate. Others wondered how the industry could achieve net-zero emissions when B100 biodiesel has been found to reduce emissions by approximately 86%.

In response, industry leaders have been quick to point to renewable diesel, which recently received a major endorsement from equipment manufacturer R.W. Beckett Corp., and ethyl levulinate, which actually achieves net-negative carbon emissions according to standard climate metrics.

A number of details still need to be worked out as the heating oil industry now sets off on the road to net-zero emissions. However, as summit speakers noted, the same can be said for the Green New Deal and all “strategic electrification” proposals. The key difference, however, is that where those initiatives would require major grid updates, as well as consumer investments that could top $40,000 per home, renewable liquid heating fuels have a viable pathway to net-zero emissions.

Our road forward is shorter, easier for industries and communities to navigate, and more cost-effective for both the government and taxpayers. Now we’re on our way.

See more photos from the 2019 HEAT Show.


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