State to increase ethanol pumps

More stations are planned for growing fleet of vehicles

August 06, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,Sun reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose administration has become increasingly focused on energy policy, announced plans yesterday to build ethanol pump stations around Maryland so the state's 1,200 flex-fuel vehicles can more easily fill up with the renewable fuel.

The state has never been able to meet a goal set more than seven years ago under Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration that flex-fuel vehicles in the state's fleet use alternative fuels half the time on average. State auditors have criticized the Maryland Energy Administration several times for falling short of that goal and making no formal timetable to meet it.

The crux of the problem has been a lack of infrastructure. When O'Malley took office last year, the state had one ethanol pump as part of its network of refueling stations for government vehicles. Two more ethanol pumps have been added in recent months, and the governor said four more will be built in the next year. The pumps will supply E-85 fuel, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

"While we're America in miniature, we're not so miniature that one pump is able to feed and fuel those 1,200 vehicles," O'Malley said at a news conference yesterday. "If E-85 is going to be widely used, it needs to be widely available."

With gas prices crimping the economy and other energy costs soaring, O'Malley said a number of recent announcements are building up to a major policy speech he will deliver on energy generation, transmission and regulation at his annual address to the Maryland Association of Counties this month in Ocean City.

The Democratic governor made campaign pledges to address rising utility bills, and he has pushed a number of initiatives aimed at reducing energy consumption and relying more on renewable energy. Last month, he announced that the state transit administration would add as many as 500 hybrid-electric buses to its fleet by 2014.

In addition to ethanol pumps in Annapolis, Baltimore and Hanover, the state plans to place the pumps - each of which costs more than $100,000 - in Easton, Hagerstown, La Plata and Salisbury. The state adds about 200 flex-fuel vehicles to its fleet of 9,000 light-duty vehicles annually and has negotiated bulk prices of about $2.92 for a gallon of E-85, compared with $3.14 for a gallon of regular gas.

O'Malley also announced a mandate that, whenever possible, the state's 2,000 diesel vehicles use biodiesel fuel, which can include fuels made from chicken fat and soybean oil.

State agencies have teamed up with Salisbury University to study Maryland crops - primarily switchgrass - that might be well-suited for conversion to ethanol and could replace the currently popular corn-based ethanol. Demand for ethanol has been blamed for rising food prices. State officials said yesterday that they hope Maryland will attract researchers and developers of ethanol that is derived from other materials.

O'Malley acknowledged that a new technology could render existing alternative-fuel vehicles obsolete but said that the state must make "targeted, responsible investments" to make progress. The energy administration also will explore ways to move to plug-in electric hybrids that might become more widely available and to launch a public awareness campaign to provide money-saving vehicle tips.

"It won't be easy or immediate, but this is needed to accelerate the coming of a post-petroleum era," said Malcolm Woolf, director of the energy administration.

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

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