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USDA fuel pump grant a big plus for Marcus Junction

Monday, January 16, 2012

Early supporters of Marcus Junction, left to right, Marcus Mayor Darrell Downs, Carl Nelson, current Marcus Junction LLC Board President, and Jack Foresman, Board Treasurer, say the new alternative fuel blender pump to be installed at the station will mean additional fuel options for consumers. They say it will also add to the continued success of the station and popular restaurant opened in 2006, along Highway 3, at the southern edge of the community. Photo by Jolene Stevens
MARCUS - A"great marketing tool" is how Carl Nelson of the Marcus Junction LLC Board, describes the new flexible fuel blending pump he says is expected to be installed at the Marcus Junction fuel outlet along Highway 3 south of Marcus, within the near future.

The blender is being made possible through a $7,500 USDA Rural Development Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant awarded last month.

It is one of five such grants to be awarded in Iowa as a part of the program.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said it is seen as "stabilizing energy costs to create an environment for job growth" in rural America.

Kim Clay, area specialist for business programs at the USDA's Rural Development office, Le Mars, says she's grateful her office had the opportunity to be a part of facilitating the grant.

"Iowa is the leader in the country when it comes to biofuels, but we still have a relatively limited number of pumps offering consumers anything more than E10," he said. "We have a potential great demand for E15 and E85, we just need more facilities that can offer them.

"We are pleased to be helping Marcus Junction with the installation of their station's first flexible fuel pump," he said, referring to the grant covering 25 percent of the total project cost.

Nelson said he and others on the Marcus Junction, LLC board, feel customers will welcome the new fuel options made available with installation of the blender pump.

The station currently has 12 diesel pumps, 11 gas pumps and one E85 pump. This will be the station's first flexible fuel pump.

"Our customers have indicated their desire for additional fuel options," he said. "We've seen some customers blending their own fuel when they pull up, but this is going to make it a lot more convenient for them.

"I see the new pump at the same time helping increase our E85 sales, which since the fuel became available have been amazing," Nelson said.

He also added his appreciation for the support of his board in planning for the new blender pump and assistance of the Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Council (SIMPCO) in grant preparation for the project.

"We feel we've, you might say, been ahead of the game when we first opened (in 2006) as the first in the county offering alternative fuels," Nelson said. "Our investors who pooled their money together to get it started gave a lot of thought to the site layout and what could best serve our customers. We see this as taking another step forward."

The bid request for pump installation is currently out, with the installation seen as a relatively simple line in that this initial planning resulted in the earlier completion of fuel lines needed for additional pump facilities, he said.

He's hopeful installation can be completed "within the next couple of months" at the station, Nelson said.

Marcus Mayor Darrel Downs, another of those instrumental in the grassroots planning for Marcus Junction is like Nelson, enthusiastic on what the added pump offers the station's customers.

"It's a tremendous marketing tool for our biofuels industry. Short, simple and sweet, that's what it's all about, Downs said.

"It gives your customer the choice of the fuel he or she wants. This has been one of our top priorities. We see it helping the entire industry."

Downs, joining Nelson in expressing appreciation for the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) efforts on behalf of alternative fuels, has also been among key players in the growth and progress of the nearby Little Sioux Corn Processors ethanol plant.

It's probable he indicated that Little Sioux could someday further enhance the ongoing success of Marcus Junction should the plant at some point consider options to become among the fuel sources for the station.

"Little Sioux is always poised for changes," Downs said. "We have strategic planning sessions throughout the year to discuss these changes. We'll see what happens. Discussions such as these are essential for any business in rural America, be it a downtown business or one such as Little Sioux.

"Planning ahead is extremely important for rural America as it is today," Downs emphasized. "The key part of all this is the consideration of communities partnering things and getting people to work together. Communities that don't do this are going to fall behind."

Iowa biodiesel production sets record

Iowa's biodiesel production, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) says, has set a new record in 2011 after a very difficult 2010.

Ten of Iowa's 13 biodiesel plants operated during 2011 and produced a combined 169 million gallons. With plants restarting throughout the year, the rate of biodiesel production in December reached over 250 million gallons (annualized).

"2011 has been a banner year for Iowa biodiesel," said Monte Shaw, executive director, IRFA. "The reinstatement of the biodiesel tax credit combined with the renewable fuels standard (RFS) jump-started demand and Iowa was quick to respond."

Iowa produced 48 million gallons of biodiesel in 2010. The previous record production was 85 million gallons in 2009.

The IRFA, in an earlier report said, meanwhile, Iowa's ethanol production ticked up in 2011, but the rate of annual growth slowed as the domestic E10 market became saturated.

Forty-one Iowa ethanol plants produced 3.7 billion gallons in 2011, up from 3.5 billion gallons in 2010. This represents 27 percent of the estimated 13.8 billion gallons of nationwide ethanol production.

"The year 2011 was certainly a good year for Iowa ethanol producers with increased production and profitability," Shaw said. "We relied, however, on export markets for growth. We're also facing the expiration of ethanol's tax credit. Those factors place a premium on pushing the rapid commercialization of E15. Higher blends like E15 are the only way to guarantee increased ethanol production in the future and the jobs and foreign oil displacement that comes with it. We are waiting for final federal approvals, but Iowa will be a leader in E15."

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