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State commission highlights alternative-fueled vehicles
A Nissan Leaf electric car sits on display Tuesday morning at Road Atlanta during the Second Annual Alternative Fueled Vehicle Roadshow. The mission of the event is to showcase alternative-fueled vehicles and provide educational opportunities for consumers and business leaders to understand alternatives to gasoline. - photo by Lee Johnson | The Times

For the second year in a row, alternative-fueled vehicles hit Georgia’s roads to show off what some officials hope is the future of automobiles.

The Georgia Public Service Commission held its Second Annual Alternative Fueled Vehicle Roadshow Tuesday morning at Road Atlanta, showcasing the vehicles and how they can be used.

“It’s critical that we make this shift to alternative fuels,” said Steve Oppenheimer, task force coordinator for Clean Cities Atlanta. “It’s about energy conservation.”

From a compressed natural gas powered Ford Focus to a fully electric Nissan Leaf to a propane fueled police cruiser, alternative fuel is making waves in the automobile industry.

From 1995 to 2010, alternative-fueled vehicles in use in the United States climbed from about 250,000 to nearly 1 million, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

More than half of those vehicles are powered by ethanol, or E85.

“Everybody’s jumping on board,” said Carl Eunice, sales manager at Carriage Nissan in Gainesville. “In three to five years it’s going to be the norm.”

Eunice showed off a fully electric car and said many customers are jumping at the chance to own one.

“We’ve seen a huge response for fully electric vehicles,” Eunice said.

He’s had a hard time filling orders because of the interest from not only Gainesville, but residents from surrounding areas.

Those cars, he said, can run about 100 miles on one charge and drive like a normal car.

“After about two or three days you forget you’re driving an electric car,” he said.

But the Department of Energy estimates compressed natural gas is becoming the most consumed fuel for alternative-fueled vehicles.

Since 1995, consumption of compressed natural gas has nearly quadrupled, and in 2010 there was an estimated 210 million gasoline gallon equivalents consumed in the U.S.

Propane is second at about 125 million GGEs.

“If you really want to have a positive economic and environmental impact then natural gas is the way to go,” said Ian Skelton, director of natural gas vehicles for Atlanta Gas Light.

Skelton said the gas is mainly used in fleet vehicles, including transit, refuse and even trucking vehicles.

Compressed natural gas has not hit mainstream residential popularity yet because of the expensive infrastructure, but the fuel system is heading in that direction, he said.

As of January this year, E85 was, on average, the most expensive fuel in the U.S. at about $4.50 per GGE.

Compressed natural gas was the cheapest at just more than $2 per GGE. Propane was just less than $3.50 per GGE.

Gas mileage varies depending on engine size, but Skelton was driving his Ford Focus to South Georgia and said he won’t have to fill up until he gets there.

And, he said, the gas is readily available.

“We were talking about importing (compressed natural gas) two to three years ago and now we’re talking about exporting because we have so much,” Skelton said.

State officials said they hope to see more people use alternative fuel, no matter which alternative they choose.

“This event showcases the alternative to traditional gasoline,” said Georgia Public Service Commission chairman Tim Echols. “I hope we can attract more alternative fuel research, development and fueling infrastructure to Georgia.”

The roadshow will travel next to Thomasville; other stops include Macon, Norcross and Savannah.


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