Tuesday, May 04, 2010
City Steers Back to Unleaded Fuel
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque, one of the first cities in the country to embrace alternative fuels, is switching back to unleaded.
Mayor Richard Berry's administration cited fuel pump failures, warranty problems and the increased cost of alternative fuels as reasons for the switch.
Police Chief Ray Schultz said in some cases, the fuel pumps on police cars failed in the early morning hours, with no way to get them fixed immediately. The administration also said some sedans in the Fire Department fleet were unable to respond to emergencies.
In any case, the city hopes to save about $250,000 a year.
"It's no longer cost-effective for us to run on ethanol," said John Soladay, director of the city's Solid Waste Management Department.
City departments, for now, are to fill their tanks with unleaded gasoline instead of the old "E-85" ethanol blend they had been using. For diesel vehicles, the city will use a biodiesel blend that includes a smaller concentration of vegetable oil products.
City Hall's fleet managers will maintain all the equipment needed to switch back to alternative fuels if gas prices spike. In the meantime, the city expects to improve its vehicle mileage because the ethanol blend reduces fuel economy about 25 percent, according to Soladay.
It's also more expensive on a per-gallon basis, the administration said. Police pay about $2.37 a gallon for unleaded and $2.47 for E-85.
Former Mayor Martin Chávez ordered the city to purchase only vehicles that can run on alternative fuels in 2006. About 48 percent of the city's 4,600-vehicle fleet had been converted.
Chávez repeatedly pushed for renewable energy initiatives during his administration and spoke against America's dependence on foreign oil.
But Soladay, who worked in the Chávez administration, said Albuquerque's move to alternative fuels outpaced many other cities, leading to unexpected challenges. When something went wrong with a new vehicle, for instance, the city often had to prove to the manufacturer the alternative fuel wasn't the cause, which led to delays, officials said.
Chief Administrative Officer David Campbell has instructed city departments to use the most cost-effective fuel. To that end:
• There will be quarterly reviews on whether unleaded or an 85 percent ethanol blend is less costly. Ethanol blends are made mostly from corn.
• Diesel vehicles will switch from a 20 percent to a 5 percent biodiesel blend.
• Buses or sedans that run on natural gas will continue to do so because they are not set up as "flex fuel" vehicles that can switch back and forth.
City Councilor Isaac Benton said he isn't concerned about the switch, especially because ethanol takes a lot of energy to produce.
"Even though it's made from agricultural products, it could be a problem in and of itself," Benton said in an interview. "I know there have been real questions about the mileage per gallon you see with ethanol. I don't really consider it to be a sustainable product."