A Growing or Shrinking Industry: You Decide
by Sean Cota, NEFI & Tom Tubman, AEC
We’ve come so far in the past two years, but don’t forget what we’ve lost over the last 10
Since September 2019, the liquid heating fuel industry’s federal and state advocacy efforts have resulted in some big wins. Unfortunately, our opponents have seen even bigger victories. Today, we have reasons to be excited about the future of our industry, as well as reasons to be very, very afraid.
Renewable liquid heating fuels offer America the quickest, most cost-effective and energy-secure path to net-zero emissions, and offer our Main Street businesses a path to real and sustainable success for future generations. However, the utilities and their allies are doing everything they can to wipe us off the map.
In this edition of our “Renewable Revolution” column, we’ll look at some of our industry’s recent success stories, as well as the losses we’ve incurred over the past decade and what could come next.
Success Stories & Future Growth
Over the past two years, liquid fuel industry advocates have come together like never before to defend our businesses and fight for their future generations. There has been an unprecedented degree of coordination among and between state and national associations. This column — a collaboration between NEFI and AEC, published in multiple monthly trade journals — is but one example. Our groups have also worked closely with the National Oilheat Research Alliance, Oilheat Manufacturers Association, National Biodiesel Board and Advanced Biofuels Association, to name just a few allies.
As mentioned above, our combined efforts have yielded some big wins. Just last month, the USDA Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program awarded four grants to liquid heating fuel suppliers across the Northeast (see “Federal Advocacy Pays Forward”). Five more were announced this past April. NEFI and allies in the biofuel sector fought hard to ensure that liquid heating fuel suppliers would be eligible and seriously considered for grants under this program.
Now, the program is projected to increase sales of advanced biofuels in the Northeast by over 470 million gallons. That’s enough for 2.3 billion gallons of renewable liquid heating fuels blended at 20 percent. This shows that our national advocacy efforts can and do lead to substantial investments in our industry, especially when we work together and tell our story convincingly.
Heating oil is unique in its ability to deploy massive amounts of renewable fuels of nearly every type. We can actually help the utilities in their electrification efforts and prevent grid peaking and massively reduce emissions in the process. Remember, the Northeast grids remain heavily dependent on fossil fuels during high-demand — i.e., peaking — periods (for more on this topic, see last month’s installment of this column). When you factor in electricity’s significant transmission losses, this makes for terrible energy efficiency and an even worse carbon footprint. In other words, during the coldest part of the winter, switching to electric heat pumps would have exactly opposite the intended effect.
On the other hand, if the utilities want to electrify everything else, blended heating fuel, with its lower carbon profile and superior energy storage capacity, can play a bigger role in the clean-energy economy than natural gas and other fossil fuels. This should provide our industry a unique market expansion opportunity. We can reclaim customer accounts previously lost to natural gas conversions and grow our base for the first time in a generation, but only if we present our case convincingly to consumers, public officials, regulators and policymakers.
No doubt, we have made some great strides over the past two years and we can go even further in the future. But we must not forget or ignore how much we lost across the decade prior.
According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, in 2010 there were 5.8 million homes using heating oil in the nine-state Northeast (New England plus New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania). By 2019, that number was down to 4.4 million. That’s a loss of more than 1.4 million customer accounts, or approximately 25 percent of the market. Across the 12 East Coast states from Maine to Virginia, our industry lost more than 1.5 million customers from 2010 to 2019.
The utilities and their allies succeeded in taking away one-quarter of our market over last decade, and they’re planning to do the same or worse this decade. Regional grid operator ISO New England projects that more than 1.1 million electric heat pumps will be installed from 2021 through 2030, and that’s just in the six New England states (see “One Million Heat Pumps” from June 2021).
This is why NEFI and AEC are launching the Survive & Thrive Fund in 2022, and it’s why we’re calling for all liquid heating fuel dealers to help us fight back now by making a contribution at nefi.com/donate and americanenergycoalition.com/donation.
We could have a growing and prosperous future, or we could continue to let the utilities and their allies chip away at our base until there’s nothing left to stand on. Please make the right choice.
Sean Cota is the President and Chief Executive Officer of NEFI. He can be reached at email@example.com Tom Tubman is Executive Director of AEC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.