Saturday, October 15, 2005 | In the wake of skyrocketing gas prices and a spike in public concern over U.S. dependency on oil resources, San Diego’s Clean Cities Coalition held a news conference Friday to champion technologies and resources that it claims are helping to reduce petroleum dependency in the San Diego region.

In particular, coalition leaders celebrated a new Honda compressed natural gas home refueling station that was put on the market in August and the public opening of a fueling station at Poway Unified School District to make compressed natural gas resources more easily available to consumers.

The Clean Cities Coalition is a regional group of about 50 fleets, local agencies, fuel providers and vehicle manufacturers who voluntarily network under sponsorship from the federal Department of Energy to spread the use of alternative fuels and vehicles in the San Diego area.

There are currently about 2,000 vehicles running on alternative fuels in the San Diego region, 750 of which operate in fleets of school buses, trash trucks and company vehicles, and another 1,250 in the private sector. Most of these run on fuel alternatives such as biodiesel, made from vegetable products, and natural gas, which still account for more gasoline displacement (94 percent) than the relatively newer technologies of electric and hybrid electric-gasoline vehicles.

The coalition coordinates funding from the Department of Energy with grants from local agencies like the Air Pollution Control District to offset initial costs of alternative fuel technologies and continue to make them more economically feasible for fleets.

Additionally, the coalition works to educate the public about an increasingly complex array of alternative energy options, each with its own costs and benefits.

A major appeal of alternative fuels is that they experience more gradual price changes than their volatile gasoline counterpart, according to Greg Newsome, chairman of the Clean Cities Coalition and associate dean at the School of Technical Careers and Workforce Initiatives at Miramar College.

“Just about all of these fuels are made locally or supplied locally, so their supply can be more stable and there is a greater opportunity for [fleet managers] to spend less money on fuel costs,” said Newsome.

Alegra Bartzat, administrative director of the Regional Transportation Center’s EcoCenter for Alternative Fuel Education, says that compressed natural gas vehicles are more expensive than those that run on gasoline or diesel, but the fuel is almost always cheaper than regular gasoline – usually around 20 percent – and gets about the same gas mileage.

Bartzat said that unlike vehicles designed to run on compressed natural gas, diesel-burning vehicles can relatively, easily and cheaply be converted to biodiesel, which tends to run 20 to 30 cents more expensive by the gallon.

Proponents of biodiesel argue that these ongoing costs are offset by benefits such as a 20-percent reduction in pollution, slightly improved gas mileage, and less wear on the vehicle through its lubricating properties. Diesel-burning vehicles can also be easily and cheaply converted to biodiesel and can, therefore, be a viable option for fleets that are not seeking to replace their vehicles.

Ross Porter, press advisor for the coalition and communications director for the American Lung Association of San Diego, said that a continuing barrier to the uptake of alternative fuel technologies is how conveniently they can be acquired in the public domain.

Although most businesses set up their own private access to alternative fuel stations, only a handful of San Diego County’s 69 stations are open to the public. Similarly, San Diego’s Regional Transportation Center is currently the only place where the public can buy biodiesel, although some consumers have learned to make it in their homes.

“From a fleet perspective, infrastructure is being accommodated and continues to expand and improve. From the consumer perspective, it needs to be further implemented,” said Porter.

The opening of the Poway Unified School District’s compressed natural gas fueling station to the public is one step towards this goal. According to Phil Medved, the district’s fleet manager, the nearest fueling station for Poway residents prior to Friday was in Miramar.

Pacific Honda showcased its own solution at Friday’s news conference: a home refueling device that can be attached to existing natural gas lines and, over a 7-8 hour period, refuel a Honda Civic GX compressed natural gas vehicle.

Also on hand at the event were representatives from San Diego State University’s mechanical engineering department, where a team under the direction of Professor Jim Burns recently designed and built the L3 Enigma hybrid electric vehicle that improves on existing technology by taking more of its power from electricity and less from emissions-producing gasoline.

Please contact Jessica L. Horton directly at

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