Tesla is seeking to enter the multi-billion dollar U.S. renewable credit market, hoping to profit from the Biden administration’s march toward new zero-emission goals, two sources familiar with the matter said.
The electric car maker is one of at least eight companies with a pending application at the Environmental Protection Agency tied to power generation and renewable credits, the sources said. The EPA produces a list of pending applications with some details, but not companies’ names.
Tesla’s entry could potentially reshape the renewable credit market, established in the mid-2000s to boost investment in the U.S. biofuel industry. The market generated some 18 billion credits in 2020 and is currently dominated by ethanol producers. Tesla’s application would likely be tied to the production of electricity associated with biogas.
The Biden administration is expected to review the EPA applications and lay out how electric vehicles could qualify for tradable credits under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) this summer, the two sources said.
The move could represent the largest expansion of the RFS program that was created by President George W. Bush and aimed at boosting rural America and weaning the country off oil imports.
The entry of Tesla and other electric vehicle makers to the renewable energy scheme could attract investment for a much-needed infrastructure network, including charging stations, for electric vehicles.
However, it is likely to anger some in the U.S. refining industry who would need to buy the credits, known as RINs, generated by Tesla and other alternative fuel providers, essentially subsidizing an electric car company that seeks to put petrochemical refiners out of business.
Rural farmers could view Tesla’s entry as the Biden White House prioritizing electric vehicles over biofuels as an answer to the climate crisis.
In 2016, just before the Obama administration exited office, the EPA published a proposal seeking comment on how best to structure credits for renewable electricity that is used as a transportation fuel.
The proposal largely sat dormant during the Trump administration, which spent most of its time on fuel credits trying to find common ground among rivals in the corn and oil industries.
Electricity from biogas — mainly pulled from the nation’s landfills — is already eligible for generating credits under the RFS program, but the EPA has never approved applications to do so because the agency hasn’t yet figured out the logistical issues.
Key questions include how to trace the credit-eligible biogas from its origin through to a car’s battery, and who along that supply chain should be allowed to claim the lucrative credits.
Under the RFS, refiners must blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol into their fuel pool or purchase compliance credits in a credit market, where prices have swung wildly in recent years.
The program has helped drive investment in ethanol plants in states like Iowa and Nebraska, but liquid fuels have been under attack from the Biden administration.
Tesla would generate the most lucrative type of credits, known as D3s, which trade at a significant premium to the larger pool of traditional ethanol credits.
As well as building electric cars, Tesla is also investing in charging stations and large-scale batteries.