Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols reached down, thrusting his hand into the tailpipe of a Honda Civic parked outside the Evans Government Complex. When he pulled his hand back it comes out clean, without a hint of black soot one might expect from a combustion engine.
“Clean,” Echols said, walking to the front of the car to inspect the engine compartment, which was free of oily grime.
This was no ordinary Honda, however, but one powered by compressed natural gas or CNG – one of the so-called alternative fuels Echols was promoting as part of the annual Alternative Fuel Vehicle Roadshow, which made a stop in Evans on Wednesday.
The roadshow, which Echols began in 2011 to promote the use of CNG-powered vehicles by local governments and businesses, has evolved over the years to embrace all sorts of transportation options, including hybrids, “flex fuel” and electric cars.
Georgia isn’t just the second-largest home for electric vehicles, it’s also a growing market for trucks and cars running on other alternative fuels, such as propane, biodiesel, ethanol and CNG.
“I go to a lot of different states, and there are not a lot of strong advocates for electric vehicles like you find in (the road show),” said Cornelius Willingham, Southeastern manager for Nissan’s Leaf sales.
Peach State companies such as UPS, the Marta transit system and school-bus maker Blue Bird have embraced alternative fuels for cost savings, reduced maintenance and environmental benefits. Local governments are too, such as Thomson’s switch years ago to compressed natural gas in its city vehicles, Augusta’s installation of a $2.7 million CNG fueling station and Savannah’s public electric-vehicle charging stations.
Echols said it makes sense for the government to promote the use of such fuels, not only for environmental reasons but also for basic economics. He cites E-85 fuel as a prime example. Although most people might not know what E-85 means, Echols will tell you it is an ethanol fuel made primarily from millions of pounds of Georgia corn at a plant in Camilla.
“Why would you not want to support the use of a Georgia product, made in Georgia and sold in Georgia?” he said. “It makes no sense not to.”
Augusta Solid Waste Director Mark Johnson is also an advocate, having seen the benefits of using CNG in trash trucks and street sweepers used by city contractors.
The city distributes about 32,000 gallons per month from its natural gas pumping station, which is open to anyone with a CNG powered vehicle. Johnson can envision a time when city transit and school buses are powered by CNG, which will save money and lower emissions.
“Augusta is on the verge on non-attainment,” he said, referring to federal clean air standards which the city has been on the cusp of violating for years. Should federal regulators determine that the city’s air is too dirty, it would trigger more regulation of emissions and impact economic development, he said.
Mike Watson, the vice president of Sunbelt Nissan on Washington Road, is also a believer in the alternative fuel trend, in part because he sells the Nissan Leaf, the best selling all-electric car in the world.
Watson said the Leaf is rapidly becoming popular among Atlanta commuters, largely because of its 80-plus mile range and about $12,500 in state and federal tax incentives owners can benefit from.
In the Augusta area, however, it has been a bit slower to catch on, in part because of the lack of public charging stations available.
“We just got to get some of these vehicles out there on the street,” he said. “Then people will see what they can do.”
Morris News Service reporter Walter Jones contributed to this article.