Alternative fuel station opens in Gloucester
GLOUCESTER — — With a quick glance, there is nothing unusual about Gloucester County's newest gas station.
There are pumps, squeegees, even a bell that rings when motorists drive in. What's being sold is another matter.
The station, opened Friday by Phillips Energy Inc., is the second in the state to offer three alternative fuels: ethanol, biodiesel and propane.
The alternative fuel market in Hampton Roads has been largely confined to military bases. That's changing because government agencies and businesses are increasingly seeing it as a way to save money and be better environmental stewards.
Gloucester County Public Schools partnered two years ago with environmental group Virginia Clean Cities and the state to buy five propane-powered buses.
Known as liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, propane generates 10 to 20 percent less energy than gasoline. But it burns cleaner, reduces the need for oil, and, depending on subsidies, and can be less expensive than gas.
"We've had really good success with those propane buses," Schools Superintendant Ben Kiser said.
The school district, plus the growing number of privately owned automobiles capable of running on ethanol, prompted Phillips to build the alternative fuel station, company president John Phillips said.
Rooted in the Middle Peninsula for decades, Phillips has traditionally been a home heating oil supplier. It partnered with several suppliers, such as Virginia Biodiesel in West Point, to meet the expected demand for alternative fuels.
Biodiesel is typically more expensive than diesel, but it burns cleaner because it's made from organic sources, such as soybeans, corn and algae. It was priced 20 to 40 cents higher than other diesel at Phillips on Friday.
While many grades of gasoline contain some ethanol, Phillips offers E85, a fuel that contains up to 85 percent ethanol. In the United States, it is largely derived from corn and used by flexible-fuel vehicles. There were 350 such vehicles in Gloucester at last count by the state Department of Transportation, Phillips said.
U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Montross, attended the station's opening. He said alternative fuels will help diversify the nation's energy portfolio, which is too dependent on foreign oil.
"As much as we may want it, we don't have an unlimited supply of oil," he said.
Gerry Hannsen, owner of a Chesapeake tow truck company, criticized Wittman and the rest of Congress for failing to renew a 50 cent rebate for each gallon of propane used to power vehicles. He said the lack of a national alternative fuel policy has stalled the industry's development.
Complaining about the lack of propane suppliers on the Southside, He said: "You can hardly get it anywhere."
- Corey Nealon
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