Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols is on a mission.
It's a mission with a vision: to see Georgia and Valdosta become an oasis for alternative fuels.
But before that can happen, people have to know it's a possibility.
That's what led Echols and Clean Cities Atlanta on an Alternative Fuel Vehicle Roadshow and Educational Tour throughout the month of June, with the tour landing them in Valdosta this past Thursday.
While Echols, Clean Cities Atlanta Executive Director Don Francis, and other speakers discussed a number of alternative fuels, including propane, natural gas and biofuels, the big push was for electric vehicles.
Electric cars come in two flavors: hybrids, which run off of electrical power until they run out, at which point they switch over to gasoline, and purely electric cars.
By having charging stations, it allows electric cars to go beyond their current 100-mile limit.
Chargers for electric cars come in three varieties: Level 1, 2 and 3. A Level 1 is the kind you'd plug in at home. While it requires minimal setup, the charge is slow, taking as long as 20 hours to go from no charge to fully charged. The Level 2 charger plugs into an outlet similar to a washing machine or dryer, pulling more power resulting in a faster charge, generally taking four hours for a full charge. A Level 3 charger resembles a gas pump; it can fully charge a car in 20 minutes.
“If we can get these [Level 3] chargers outside Cracker Barrels, Applebees, coffee shops, places where people stay for 20 minutes or more, we can expand the radius of electric cars,” said Echols. “That's why this is so important.”
It's also important because time is running out. The state of Georgia is being provided with hundreds of chargers by the federal government. The only caveat is that they have to have found places for the chargers by the end of August; after that, they lose access to the ones they haven't found places for.
“It's up to that site, that individual business to decide whether they want to have one put in,” said Francis.
“If they're interested, we'll come out and do a site assessment and recommend the best place for it to be installed.”
A charger takes a couple of weeks to install. Many businesses who decide to have one installed do it to either attract customers to shop or eat there while they charge their car, or they do it to supply their own fleet of vehicles with power.
For instance, in the coming weeks, The Langdale Company is installing chargers for use with some of their work trucks and tractors, something that has become popular in recent years for companies with numerous vehicles.
Businesses who do decide to have a charger installed for public use will receive a quarterly payment to cover the electricity used.
“By 2020, electric cars are estimated to become three percent of the market. We're getting so much data about what locations are being used the most and about what people have learned. We can turn around and use that data in the future to figure out the optimal places for these chargers.”
And Francis practices what he preaches. After buying a Nissan Leaf two years ago, he hasn't been by a gas station since.
“We're focusing on clusters, areas that most people don't leave, like cities, and corridors, the most popular transportation routes across the state.”
If Echols and Francis are successful, people will be able to drive electric cars across the state, from the Florida line to the Tennessee line, from Alabama to the sea.
Of course, they're not just concerned with electric.
“We're fuel agnostic; we're interested in any fuel that's not petroleum-based.”
That can include propane, which runs one to two dollars cheaper per gallon, or even natural gas.
“They're calling the United States the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” said Echols. “We've got the largest deposits of it in the world.”
As with anything, there are pros and cons. Natural gas is cheaper than propane, but the infrastructure, the compression stations are more expensive. Propane is a more expensive fuel, but the infrastructure is cheaper to put in place.
Governments as well as businesses are making the investment into electric.
Take DeKalb County, which bills itself as The Greenest Urban County in America. DeKalb is overhauling their fleet of sanitation trucks to run off of natural gas. While the upfront cost for that is substantial, the end result is having their fuel costs cut by a third to two-thirds, saving taxpayers millions in the long run.
Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols is on a mission.
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