Fueling the future: Atlanta area leads the way in alternative fuel for cars
by Hilary Butschek
June 24, 2014 04:00 AM | 6772 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Auto Nation Nissan in Marietta salesman Dave Waits explains the Nissan Leaf concept to Raleigh Roberts with LaCrosse Engineering, who is looking for ideas to convert a fleet of service vehicles to be more energy efficient. Visitors could examine the various type of vehicles and fuel sources Monday at the Georgia Alternative Fueled Vehicle Roadshow held at the Cobb Performing Arts Center.<br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Auto Nation Nissan in Marietta salesman Dave Waits explains the Nissan Leaf concept to Raleigh Roberts with LaCrosse Engineering, who is looking for ideas to convert a fleet of service vehicles to be more energy efficient. Visitors could examine the various type of vehicles and fuel sources Monday at the Georgia Alternative Fueled Vehicle Roadshow held at the Cobb Performing Arts Center.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
CUMBERLAND — Georgia is home to two of the fastest growing alternative fuel car markets in the country, and commuters in the metro area and businesses based in Atlanta have fueled this growth.

The Alternative Fuel Vehicle Roadshow visited the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Monday to try to keep the local market for cars operating on alternative fuels growing.

“The purpose of the Alternative Fuel Roadshow is to educate businesses and retailers on how to operate more efficiently,” said Joy Kramer, the tour’s director.

Georgians are leading the way in many aspects of incorporating alternative fuel into the vehicle market, officials from car companies at the car show said.

Georgia is the fastest growing market for solar-powered energy to fuel electric cars, said Pete Marte, the CEO of Atlanta-based Hannah Solar, which installs solar systems in homes.

And, Atlanta is the No. 1 market for the Nissan Leaf, a zero-emissions electric car that can travel 85 miles on one charge and costs between $28,000 and $40,000, said Cornelius Willingham, Nissan’s electric vehicle operations manager for the southeast region.

“People from Atlanta commute every day, and the Leaf loves traffic,” Willingham said. “In the Leaf, when you’re not moving, you’re not consuming any energy.”

Gary Teate, the sales manager for U.S.-based GreenTech Automotive, which sells electric cars, said while petroleum-powered cars cost an average of $0.20 to $0.30 per mile to operate, electric cars only cost $0.02 per mile.

Tax breaks for electric cars

A good incentive for locals to buy electric cars is the tax credit on the purchase available in Georgia.

People who buy cars like the Nissan Leaf, which lets off no emissions, are eligible for a tax credit from the state worth 20 percent of the cost of the car, or $5,000, whichever is less. The federal government also offers a $7,500 tax credit for purchasing select electric vehicles, including the Leaf.

Duncan Guda, a sales associate at AutoNation Nissan Marietta, said he sees four Leaf models sold for every one of the second-most popular electric car model: the Nissan Altima.

“If you’re buying a new car already, they will buy an electric car instead because the gas savings almost makes up for the extra cost of the electric car.”

Chuck Eaton, chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, said he did the math, and in three years, the money he is saving on gas will equal the extra amount of money he paid for the electric Chevrolet Volt instead of the petroleum-powered version.

Cobb County offers two locations for residents to charge up their cars, each with four charging stations, said Gail Franklin, Cobb’s transit division manager. One station is at the Marietta Park and Ride on South Marietta Parkway, and the other is at Busbee Park and Ride on Busbee Drive Northwest. In Marietta, the Walgreens by the Square also has a charging station, said Beth Sessoms, the city’s economic development manager.

Sessoms said other private businesses offer stations for public use, but the city does not keep track of how many there are.

The tax credit Georgia offers has been criticized by some who think it is too high, said Georgia Public Safety Commissioner Tim Echols.

“I predict some change in that tax credit in the next year,” Echols said.

Beginning in 2015, a bill written by state Rep. Don Parsons (R-Northeast Cobb) will go into effect that will give commercial vehicles a tax credit. Medium vehicles, such as pickup trucks and vans, will get a $1,200 tax credit, and large vehicles will get a $2,000 tax credit due to Parsons’ bill.

“The problem is where you can refuel, and the more of these that are sold, the more of them that are on the road — with commercial vehicles that will bring more fueling stations,” Parsons said. “The more fueling stations there are, then the more of these that you’re going to have sold.”

Bill Edge, spokesman for the Public Service Commission, said he had seen the electric car market thrive amid all the alternative fuel options.

Willingham, the operations manager for Nissan’s electric vehicle, agreed.

“I think electric is going to dominate because we have electricity everywhere,” Willingham said. “It makes it much easier for people to use something they already know and have experience with.”

Compressed natural gas cars

Another option for alternative fuel is compressed natural gas, which is commonly used for fleets of cars in a commercial setting, said Ian Skelton, the director of natural gas vehicles at Atlanta Gas Light.

Skelton said he drives a Dodge Ram 2500 heavy duty pickup truck fueled by compressed natural gas, but it isn’t common for consumers to drive with this fuel. Compressed natural gas is a convenient method for businesses that rely on vehicles, such as UPS and Coca-Cola.

The lack of fueling stations providing compressed natural gas is what makes it difficult for consumers to use.

The metro-Atlanta area has eight fueling locations for compressed natural gas open to the public, but the one closest to Marietta is about 16 miles away near Brookhaven on Buford Highway. Compressed natural gas costs an average of $2.30 a gallon, Skelton said.

Businesses build their own fueling stations on their property, Skelton said. Then their fleets of vehicles, which return to the main building each night, can be filled up and ready to go for the next morning.

“It’s starting with the fleets,” Skelton said. “The consumer market will come along, as well, as more and more fueling stations are built.”

Consumers can lease a residential fueling appliance, called Phill, to put in their homes for $60 a month from Atlanta Gas Light to fill up their cars each night at about $1.20 a gallon, Skelton said.

Skelton said natural gas lowers greenhouse emissions by 20 percent, and about 98 percent of all natural gas is produced in the United States. Many fleets of cars, such as the delivery trucks Coca-Cola uses, run on a combination of compressed natural gas and diesel.

Propane-fueled cars

Cars fueled with propane usually use a combination of gas and propane to reduce the distance limitations of propane, said David Finder, the national energy programs manager for Mississippi-based Alliance AutoGas.

This type of fuel is also used commonly with fleets of cars for city governments, police departments and private companies. Alliance AutoGas converts petroleum-powered engines to switch back and forth between gas and propane.

“It is a bi-fuel system,” Finder said. “The vehicle starts on gasoline, and at a certain temperature, it switches to gas when the propane runs out.”

A tank of propane will last about 90 percent of the distance that a tank of gas will last, Finder said.

But a gallon of propane runs about $1.25 to $1.50 less than a gallon of gas, Finder said.

Solar-powered electricity

For drivers of electric cars, a more efficient way of fueling those cars is to install a solar panel system, which will bring in energy that can be used to power a home, as well as charge an electric car, Marte said.

Marte’s company installs solar systems in homes, which costs an average of $20,000, he said. The systems offer a way to clean up a person’s total energy intake by getting it from the sun instead of a coal or hydro-powered energy plant.

The solar system is designed to get energy from sunlight and put it toward the electricity the home uses. So, if there is more energy coming in than what is being used, the extra will be stored in an electric grid and saved for a rainy day.

“If you’ve got a well-designed system, you’ll be driving on sunshine,” Marte said.

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