Greening the fleet
EAGLE COUNTY – Eagle County is trying to reduce its use of fossil fuels – one truck at a time. The county is taking the first steps to switch its motor pool to an alternative fuel fleet.Gil Gilbert, fleet supervisor for Eagle County, said any new vehicles the county buys should be powered by biodiesel fuel, which is made from vegetable oils and is biodegradable and nontoxic.”It is my long-term goal to be as proactive as possible when it comes to renewable energy and fuels that we consume,” Gilbert says. Gilbert appears to have the support of the Eagle County Board of Commissioners. “This is real simple to me. My goal is to lessen the use of non-renewable resources,” said County Commissioner Tom Stone, who drives a diesel-fueled truck.
Compared with standard petroleum diesel fuel, biodiesel burns cleaner and is produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel.In April of 2006, Eagle County will introduce the biodiesel fuel to the fleet in a blend called B20 (20 percent biodiesel blended with 80 percent standard No. 2 diesel). The fuel will be used for vehicles at the landfill and in Burns in northwestern Eagle County.Brad Higgins, Eagle County road and bridge director, the B20 blend will tested during all seasons to ensure it performs favorably year round.”Our main goal is keeping the equipment on the road,” Higgins says. Gilbert’s biggest concern, he says, is changing the mindset of “old school bio-diesel” to that of “new biodiesel technology.” Commercial biodiesel is made from pure virgin stock grape seed oil and not used French fry oil from the fast food joint, Gilbert says.
Figures released by the National Biodiesel Board show that approximately 100 school districts in the country have made the switch from standard diesel. The board estimates consumption has increased from 500,000 gallons to 25 million gallons from 1999 to 2004. This year, biodiesel consumption is likely to exceed 50 million gallons.Currently, the cost of biodiesel is about 15 cents to 25 cents higher per gallon than petroleum diesel. However, biodiesel manufacturers receive a 20 cent per gallon “blenders credit” from the federal government. Biodiesel prices are expected to become more competitive as supply and demand continues to grow.As for hybrids, Gilbert questions whether those vehicles will work well in Eagle County.”I do not feel that the hybrids will perform in our environments the way they do in the metropolitan environment,” said Gilbert. Hybrid vehicles are generally most effective in stop and go traffic that allows the electrical system to recharge.County Commissioner Arn Menconi, who drove a hybrid for some time, said it was not great for going to Denver – the mileage wasn’t impressive.In 2006, the county will introduce two hybrids into its fleet to research areas where they might work. Employees form departments such as administration, health and human services, environmental health and information technology might drive hybrids.
Replacing a vehicle with a hybrid costs about $27,000, Gilbert says.”I feel it is our obligation as citizens and representatives of our citizens to be as forward-thinking as technology will let us be,” Gilbert says. “I, along with my staff, will be committed to researching, experimenting and solving issues that the new technologies will bring forth.”
Enterprise Editor Kathy Heicher also contributed to this story.