Echols hopes discussions will spur ideas on alternative-fuel vehicles

ATLANTA -- Georgia’s rookie state energy regulator is crossing the state in search of ideas for making the roads more friendly to cars and trucks that run on electricity, solar power, natural-gas and other alternative fuels.

Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols held the first of five roundtable discussions Tuesday in the commission offices. A second will be held in Athens Tuesday at Power Partners Solar, 200 Newton Bridge Road from 4-6 p.m.

On Wednesday, he heads to Savannah for a session at the Hyatt Regency from 10 a.m. to noon, then to Dublin from 4-6 p.m. at MAGE Solar.

He wraps up in Augusta Thursday from 4-6 p.m. at the Boat House, 101 Riverfront Dr.

“What I’m hoping is that there are going to be some significant ideas that will come out of this that will make alternative-fuel vehicles practical,” Echols said, adding that he’ll eventually present the ideas to other state officials.

At the initial meeting were representatives of companies that build natural-gas filling stations, manufacture solar panels and that operate their own fleets of alternative-fuel vehicles, or AFVs, like UPS and Shaw Industries. The state’s own fleet manager, Ed Finnegan, attended even though the state is not a big operator of the vehicles.

“Just having Ed Finnegan, the state fleet director, is huge,” Echols said.

Other attendees included the owners of AFVs and individual advocates.

The biggest challenge, participants acknowledge, is the chicken-or-egg problem of which comes first, the vehicles or the fueling stations.

Georgia only has two electric-fueling stations, 48 for ethanol and 24 for compressed natural gas. Except for the ethanol stations, the majority of the AFV refill options are off limits to the driving public because they’re strictly for the use of private fleets.

At the same time, Honda Mall of Georgia is the only Honda dealer in the state selling cars like the one Echols drives that run on compressed natural gas, notes the dealer’s fleet director Robert Thompson.

“All manufacturers outside of the United States make cars for it. Why can’t we have the cars in this country,” Thompson asked.

In addition to the environmental benefits from AFVs, they also have a strategic benefit for the country since they operate on homegrown fuels that don’t need to be imported, Echols said.

“With what’s going on in Egypt and the Suez Canal being threatened, it’s a very timely issue,” he said.





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