County officials tackle alternative fuel issues


Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 10:46 p.m.

Facts

CLEANER OPTIONS

  • Alternate fuel vehicles utilize fuels other than gasoline, such as natural gas, propane and biodiesel, a blend of diesel and vegetable oil glycerin.
  • Environmentally, such vehicles have proven effective in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide.
  • Alachua County officials hope participation in Clean Cities may facilitate a forum for public and private supporters of alternative fuel vehicles.

  • Vegetable oil and propane may soon flow from Alachua County gas pumps.
    In an ambitious effort to curb pollution and reduce dependance on foreign oil, local, state and federal transportation experts gathered Friday to consider participation in the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities program.
    Established as part of the 1992 Energy Policy Act, the program aims to place 1 million alternative fuel vehicles on the road and reduce annual consumption of gasoline by 1 billion gallons by 2010.
    "We don't recruit, but we work very closely with communities," said David Dunnigan of the federal energy agency. "It's grass roots. It's voluntary. And it's locally based."
    Alternate fuel vehicles utilize fuels other than gasoline, such as natural gas, propane and biodiesel, a blend of diesel and vegetable oil glycerin.
    Environmentally, such vehicles have proven effective in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. Fuels produced from biomass typically generate less carbon dioxide than petroleum, industry experts said. Soy biodiesel, for example, produces 78 percent less carbon dioxide than traditional fuels, according to the National Biodiesel Board, an industry trade group.
    But as oil prices rise, and talk of war with Iraq threatens to throw Middle East reserves into flux, many Alachua County officials said Friday their primary concern was reducing the nation's need for foreign-based oil.
    "Every night on the news we see issues about oil," said Alachua County Manager Randy Reid. Decreasing the country's dependence, "is not just an environmental issue, but an issue of how we are going to conduct business in the future."
    Nationwide, 80 state and local Clean Cities coalitions have been formed since the program's implementation. County officials hope participation in Clean Cities may facilitate a forum for public and private supporters of alternative fuel vehicles, opening markets and improving infrastructure for vehicles using non-gasoline fuels.
    If adopted, Alachua County's program would be the third in Florida, behind one in Fort Lauderdale and another near Cape Canaveral.
    Many of the county's larger fleet vehicles, such as fire and garbage trucks, are already powered by biodiesel, said Wendell Chastain, the county's fleet manager. County agencies also operate 10 hybrid vehicles - cars or trucks powered by a combination of gas and electricity, environmentally friendly but not considered true AFVs.
    Still, while increasing usage of AFVs in the state and local sector may continue, convincing the public could prove more difficult.
    Currently, program organizers estimate that more than 132,000 alternate fuel vehicles are on American roadways. Since 1992, petroleum dependance has been reduced by 102 million gallons; emissions by 19,000 metric tons, the DOE estimates.
    By 2010, the Department of Energy wants to bring the number of AFVs on the road to 1 million, an annual increase of about 17 percent per year.
    But Florida offers few incentives for the public purchase of AFV vehicles. No state tax breaks are available to entice prospective buyers. Rebates are virtually non-existent.
    Because of the lack of incentives and prices that range $4,000 more than conventional vehicles, sales of AFVs and hybrids may lag.
    "The buying public, without question, has said we want bigger, more powerful vehicles," said Mark Johnson, regional fleet manager for Southeast Toyota Distributors in Deerfield Beach. "To be able to provide a vehicle that the buying public wants, and at the same time provide a vehicle that will reduce our dependance on foreign oil and be environmentally friendly, is very, very challenging."
    Greg Bruno can be reached at 374-5026 or greg.bruno@ gvillesun.com.

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