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The Linn Co-op Oil Co. in Marion will get a big helping of promotional support next week as it becomes one of the first Iowa fuel retailers to offer E15 for mainstream vehicles.
Billboards announcing the availability of E15 at Linn Co-op and a Sept. 21 open house have been erected at 1250 Blairs Ferry Road and 895 Seventh Ave., Marion. The billboards will be changed to a branding message on Sept. 24, and will be up until Oct. 7.
The slogan for the campaign will be "The roads of Iowa will never be the same." Campaign messages will emphasize the cost savings and performance benefits of E15, according to association officials.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved rules allowing retailers to sell the 15 percent ethanol fuel blend for 2001 vehicles in June, and Linn Co-op was among the first five retailers to receive an EPA approval letter to sell the fuel.
Linn Co-op Oil Co. was ready to begin selling E15 in July, but it was not available at local petroleum terminals, and it was was too costly to transport E15 from terminals that had it.
The co-op will offer an E15 pump at its 325 35th St., Marion, facility. Jim Becthold, service manager for the co-op, said he expects E15 to retail for about 5 cents less per gallon than E10, the 10 percent ethanol blend.
Becthold said it's anybody's guess how many motorists will switch over from E10 to E15.
"It could be anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent, I have no idea," Becthold said. "I'd like to see 50 percent."
Becthold said the Sept. 21 open house will feature a 15 cent-per-gallon discount on E15, and free hot dogs with chips from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We're excited that we're only a week away from having E15 available for all 2001 and newer vehicles,” said Lucy Norton, the association's managing director. “It has been a very long time coming and we're enthusiastic about Linn Co-op's first-in-the-state status.”
Becthold said he expects a few other cooperatives in Iowa to begin selling E15 at about the same time. Many cooperatives have a high percentage of members who are stakeholders in the success of ethanol, through corn-growing or investment in ethanol plants.
Becthold said the leadership by co-ops mirrors the situation when ethanol was first introduced in the 1970s.
Co-ops also have been among the early adopters of blender pumps, which allow motorists to adjust the percentage of ethanol they want in fueling their flex fuel vehicles. While the blender pumps can be set to provide E15 to flex fuel vehicles, most of the flex fuel vehicle owners preferred higher ethanol blends if they were at a blender pump.
Representatives of Iowa's largest gasoline retailers, Casey's General Store and Kum & Go, did not immediately return calls seeking common on their plans regarding E15.
With 41 ethanol plants, Iowa leads all other states in production of ethanol. The state's ethanol plants have the ability to produce 3.7 billion gallons annually.