Ethanol organization dreams big, values grassroots

Source: By Holly Jessen, Ethanol Producer Magazine • Posted: Friday, July 17, 2015

The story has a familiar beginning, with $2 a bushel corn and determined farmers seeking ways to add value to their crops. For the American Coalition for Ethanol, the name Merle Anderson comes to the forefront.

“Merle and his banker traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to learn more about ethanol, and he came back with evangelistic passion,” says Brian Jennings, executive vice president of ACE. “He devoted blood, sweat, and tears to form ACE as a true coalition, a big tent for organizations and people from all walks of life who wanted to support ethanol.” Jennings adds that while others had a hand in forming ACE, Anderson’s tenacity, determination and passion helps define the organization today.

In the early days, ACE did everything from lobbying at the state government level, working with farmers on organizing and investing in projects to build ethanol plants and sponsoring yellow dime and nickel days at gas stations where ethanol-blended fuel was sold. “One of ACE’s first initiatives was Operation Prairie Fire, which persuaded government fleets to use ethanol-blended fuel,” Jennings says. “Eventually, ACE sponsored dirt-track races and held educational seminars for mechanics.”

As the organization matured, it got involved on a federal policy level. Although the industry as a whole eventually got on board, ACE was the first to publically support the renewable fuel standard (RFS), he says. The group also developed a market development campaign and was the first to work directly with retailers, encouraging the sale of ethanol-blended fuel.  The market development piece is currently one of ACE’s main focuses. “Today we’re putting a great deal of time and money into a new way to increase ethanol demand called Flex Fuel Forward, a campaign featuring retailer-to-retailer interaction about how to succeed and profit by offering E15 and flex fuels to consumers,” he says.

While much has changed over the years, a few core things have remained constant. “First, we’ve always punched above our weight,” Jennings says. “The tenacity and passion that Merle Anderson and our founders brought to the table is alive and well today.” And, thanks to leaders like Anderson, Orrie Swayze, Scott Parsley and others, ACE will always be a member-driven organization. “Our most important characteristic is that we’re grassroots,” he says, adding that “our members are the heart and soul of ethanol.”

Dave Sovereign represents Golden Grain Energy LLC on the ACE board of directors. Golden Grain has been a member of ACE since 2006. He considers ACE a tightly run ship with good legislative connections. “We feel as a board that we get great value for the dollars of our membership there,” he says, adding that Golden Grain also maintains memberships with other organizations as well.

One of the things ACE does well, Sovereign says, is making sure that the national and state groups, such as the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy, state ethanol production groups and the national and state corn growers groups, are all communicating with each other. Specifically, he mentioned Jennings’ skills as a “great consensus builder.”