Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) have grabbed the attention of refiners this spring and summer, and for good reason. The price of RINs –– ethanol credits used by refineries to prove compliance with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard –– have soared, and the credits are having an outsized negative effect on some refiners’ costs and profitability. Part of the RIN price spike can be attributed to concerns that there may not be enough to go around this year, and that the situation in 2017 may be far worse. But the rocketing cost of the credits is also raising questions about whether the largely unregulated and opaque RINs market is being manipulated or even cornered by those hoping for a quick, Powerball-size profit. Today, we continue our review of the RINs market with a look at which types of refiners are hit hardest by high RIN prices, and at whether we might be heading off a RIN-availability cliff.
The rising cost of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) –– ethanol credits used by refineries to prove compliance with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard –– is putting added financial pressure on the refining sector, which already is squeezed by too-high inventories and thin crack spreads. In fact, for some refiners RIN expenditures may soon be their biggest single operating cost category. (Yes, you read that right.) The cost of ethanol credits is being driven up to record levels by several factors, chief among them the concern there may not be enough to go around this year and next. And things may only get worse from there. In today’s blog, we begin a two-part examination of the 2016-17 market for RINs, a regulatory must-do that rankles and vexes most refiners and gasoline importers.
A couple of weeks back in “A Market of Contradictions: Ethanol Mandates, Motor Gasoline and the Blend Wall” we looked at how US refiners are on the hook to blend more and more ethanol into a diminishing pool of gasoline (the blend wall) under Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) legislation. Ethanol producers are losing 35 cnts/gal after the hottest July ever fried the corn harvest. Sinking ethanol production may not cover refiner’s needs. In response, refiners are turning to an arcane workaround called Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS). Today we'll peel back the red tape to see what is really going on.