Virginia Expands E-85 Network with Award-Winning Initiative

July 2007, Government Fleet - Feature

by Phil Bolsta

When Gov. Tim Kaine slipped off his suit jacket and pumped fuel into one of his executive protective unit GMC Yukons last October, a new era dawned in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Kaine was fueling the vehicle with E-85, a clean-burning blend of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline.

The “Citizen Kaine”photo op marked the formal opening of Virginia’s first stateowned alternative-fuel station at the Department of General Services Office of Fleet Management Services in Richmond. Two more fuel stations for government-owned flex-fuel (also known as bi-fuel) vehicles, which can run on gasoline or E-85, will be built at already selected sites in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Other dignitaries on hand for the event included representatives from several state agencies, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), and General Motors Corp. All are partners in the Virginia E-85 Fueling Infrastructure project, designed to expand Virginia’s alternative-fuel vehicle network. When completed, the project will allow more than 4,000 state-owned and GSA-owned vehicles in Virginia to fill up with E-85, a corn-generated fuel that produces fewer smog-related pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

Stage Set with 1992 EPACT
The initiative originated in the fall of 2005 when then-Gov. Mark Warner asked state agencies to come up with ways to conserve energy. Gov.Warner specifically tasked the Virginia Department of GeneralServices (DGS) with finding options to reduce petroleum consumption in state-owned vehicles. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, fuel prices across the state had reached unacceptable levels.

Don Unmussig, director of the Office of Fleet Management Services (OFMS), an operating unit of DGS, responded quickly to Gov. Warner’s request. Unmussig put together a winning proposal to develop an E-85 fueling infrastructure for state-owned vehicles.

The stage had already been set back in 1992 with the passage of the Energy Policy Act (EPACT), which mandates that 75 percent of new state-owned vehicles purchased and deployed in metropolitan statistical areas must be capable of operating on alternative fuel.Unmussig focused his efforts on E-85, although 205 vehicles in his fleet operated on a combination of gasoline and compressed natural gas (CNG). “We tried CNG, but the fueling infrastructure was so scattered,we did not get much usage,” he says.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine shed his suit jacket and pumped fuel into one of his Executive Protective Unit GMC Yukons at the opening of the state’s first state-owned alternative-fuel station.

Federal GSA Partnership Formed
In February 2006,Unmussig presented a partnership proposal to the federal GSA, offering to allow GSA-owned vehicles to use the new state-operated E-85 fuel sites. (The Virgnia DGS and the federal GSAprovide similar services.) Since federal fleets are required to use alternative fuels whenever possible,Unmussig says, “It is in the best interest of both agencies to partner to use the fuel. The relationship between DGS and GSA is basically an agreement between the parties that GSA can use the fuel sites and be billed by the DGS fuel card provider for the use.”

DGS and GSA vehicles use the Voyager fuel card, a credit card issued by US Bank/Voyager and accepted at most retail fuel stations in the U.S.Unmussig arranged for the automated fuel card readers at the three DGS E-85 fuel sites to be programmed to accept both the state and federal fuel cards. It’s the first time in state history that state and federal agencies have partnered to reduce petroleum consumption and promote alternative-fuel use.

Prior to the DGS-GSA partnership, most federal vehicles could not comply with the federal alt-fuel mandate due to a lack of fueling infrastructure. The only E-85 sites were located at the Pentagon, Langley Air Force Base, and Yorktown Naval Weapons Station.

“The latter two sites are on high-security installations, meaning access is difficult,” Unmussig points out. “The three DGS sites are right off the two major interstates in Virginia and located in areasheavily used by both DGS and GSA flex-fuel fleet vehicles.”

Not surprisingly, other government agencies operating flex-fuel vehicles leased from GSA Fleet contacted Unmussig to learn how they also could comply with the mandate. Unmussig’s office began partneringwith these agencies to develop additional E-85 fuel sites. The agencies are members of the Virginia Regional Environmental Management System (V-REMS).

Unmussig is enthusiastic about the potential widespread application of this shared business model. “GSA officials indicatedthey would like to expand this type of model in every state that was interested,” Unmussig says. “I belong to the National Conference of State Fleet Administrators (NCSFA), and many member states have expressed interest in developing similar operations.”

Model Can Be Extended to Public
Unmussig is also optimistic about introducing this business model to the private sector.“GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler all sell models that can run on E-85, but there are no public retail E-85 fueling sites available,” he says.“Something needs to be done to offer E-85 fueling opportunities to the general public. Several hundred thousandE-85-capable vehicles operate in Virginia.”

To help rectify the situation and heighten public conciousness, OFMS, along with its primary partner, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME), cemented a relationship withGeneral Motors Corp. in October 2006. As a result,Virginia will partner with GM in its “Live Green Go Yellow” campaign to promote E-85 use in Virginia.

GM had offered to assist several private, Virginia-owned retailers to convert gasoline tanks to E-85, and is now targeting areas where customers own E-85-capable vehicles. To aid in the success of the retail site developments, DMME, in partnership with the Hampton Roads Clean Cities Coalition, obtained a grant in June 2006 from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to develop an E-85 fueling infrastructure.

The “Live Green Go Yellow” campaign is a key component of the Virginia-Maryland-D.C.Public E-85 Pump Project, which will provide 12-20 public E-85 fuel dispensers over the next two years, mostly along the I-95, I-64 Crescent Corridor that traverses Virginia,Maryland, and the District of Columbia. These new fueling stations will make the alternative fuel available to an estimated 15,000 public and private flex-fuel vehicles and dispense up to 530,000 gallons of E-85 fuel every month.

This $767,000 Pump Project came about because multiple agencies from multiple jurisdictions wanted to jump on the E-85 bandwagon. “We felt that if we developed a grant proposal that encompassed a scope of this magnitude, we had a good chance for approval and potential for success,”Unmussig says. “Essentially, we all pooled our resources and acted as ‘one’ instead of a bunch of smaller ‘silos.’”

E-85 Use Gains Momentum
The cherry on the top of the E-85 sundae came in September 2006, when Unmussig earned the NCSFA Honda Environmental Leadership Award inrecognition of the Virginia DGS efforts to promote alternative-fuel use.

The transition from gasoline to E-85 continues to gain momentum. The Virginia DGS is committed to making additional E-85 fueling accessible to state and federal fleet vehicles; the state’s Departmentof Transportation has set aside land for E-85 refueling sites at terminal locations; the Defense Supply Center in Richmond is working to make E-85 available to Department of Defense (DoD) and employee vehicles; and the Navy Exchange Service Command is planning to build up to three E-85 fueling stations in Hampton Roads for DoD,employee, fleet, and public vehicles.

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