May 04, 2006
Alternative energy sources have gotten a boost from lawmakers who recently approved bills requiring as many as 300 state-owned vehicles to use biodiesel - a fuel containing a mixture of diesel and plant material.
The bills mean the state joins a number of regional and local governments powering at least some of their fleet with biodiesel in a move away from fossil fuels.
Legislators backing such measures have cited a range of benefits, including reducing dependence on foreign oil, boosting rural economies and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The moves also come at a time when record-high gasoline prices are spurring louder calls for more alternative energy sources.
"It's absolutely a step in the right direction," said Jake Meffley, energy advocate for Environment Colorado. "It's government doing what it tells everyone else to do - it's walking the walk" of using more alternative fuels.
Proponents say biodiesel, a blend of conventional diesel and fuel derived from soybeans or oilseed plants, is a cleaner-burning fuel that improves fuel economy and engine performance, and makes significant cuts in several pollutants, including carbon monoxide and particulate matter.
The biodiesel rule is tied to two bills passed by lawmakers: one requires biodiesel use in state-owned diesel vehicles where the fuel is available, as long as it's no higher than 10 cents per gallon above the cost of typical diesel fuel. That bill is now law, signed by the governor in March.
The second bill, approved by lawmakers this week and awaiting the governor's signature, would put hundreds of additional state diesel vehicles under the jurisdiction of the state's fleet manager, making those vehicles subject to the biodiesel requirement in the other bill.
Vehicles belonging to the Colorado Department of Transportation and some higher education institutions are exempted from the biodiesel measure, however.
Jeff Probst, of Westminster-based Blue Sun Biodiesel, a producer and marketer of a 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent diesel mixture known as B20, called the legislation a "stepping stone."
"Once we get into those (state) vehicles and show them how good the fuel is, they'll never go back," Probst said. "Politically, you don't need to mandate it. Just use the fuel and compare it."
The biodiesel push means state government will join the city and county of Denver, Denver Public Schools, the Regional Transportation District, the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and other public agencies that are using the fuel in some of their buses, trucks and other vehicles.
The measures, Senate Bills 15 and 16, are expected to cover 200 to 300 state-owned diesel vehicles with access to biodiesel fuel. But the precise number isn't clear.
That's because state fleet officials are still assessing how many diesel vehicles are under its umbrella, and how many of those have easy access to biodiesel pumps, said Scott Madsen, director of the Division of Central Services, which includes the state fleet.
Many vehicles aren't close enough to the small number of retail biodiesel pumps (about 15) around the state, Madsen said. In other cases, there may not be enough vehicles in one place to make it economical to set up a centralized fueling station, he said.
But for some agencies, such as the Division of Wildlife or Department of Corrections, there may be an opportunity to buy the biodiesel in bulk and fill an in-house tank, he said.