State Alternative-Fuel Offer Not Getting Much Mileage

Posted August 13, 2007 6:54 p.m. EDT
Updated August 13, 2007 7:55 p.m. EDT

— President Bush's energy plan touts alternative fuel as the wave of the future, but you have to be able to get it first.

That’s the goal of a $3 million state incentive program that North Carolina State University researchers over see and say is a good deal for stations that would add alternative fuel to their lineups.

The program is getting few takers, however.

“They get reimbursed for up to 80 percent, so if a dispenser costs $20,000, they can potentially get 80 percent of that back,” said Anne Tazewell, the alternative fuels program manager at NCSU.

No one in Wake, Durham or Wake counties has taken the state up on the offer, though, and Tazewell said that has surprised the researchers.

Right now, a station in Durham is the only place in the Triangle to get E-85, which blends ethanol and gasoline, is the Cruizers station on N.C. Highway 55 in Durham. Three stations in Moore County offer the option. After that, the next-closest stations are in Statesville, Jacksonville, and the Charlotte area.

E-85 contains 85 percent plant- or animal-based ethanol. Bio-diesel is usually made from soybean oil or used cooking oil. Alternative fuel can reduce foreign oil dependency, cut air pollution, and save customers money.

Apparently, however, drivers are not asking for E-85, so dealers are not asking for the grant money.

“I've been here eight years and haven't heard any big call for the E-85 gasoline so, I really don't think it's cost effective for us to do anything like that at this time,” said gas retailer Mitch Freeman.

Nearly every major auto manufacturer sells flex-fuel vehicles that run on alternative fuel. Until more customers demand the new blend, however, takers for alternative fuel grants will probably remain on empty.