August 7, 2008

O’Malley Vows to Expand State’s Use of Ethanol

By LIAM FARRELL Staff Writer

The state government is going to increase the amount of ethanol used in its fleet of vehicles by placing four new fuel pumps throughout Maryland.

Gov. Martin O'Malley announced yesterday in Annapolis that the sites will be built in Easton, Hagerstown, La Plata and Salisbury. The governor hopes continued emphasis on alternative fuels will increase independence from gasoline and improve the environment.

"The only way the future changes, and changes for the better, is when we take responsibility," he said.

The infrastructure for each pump costs about $100,000 and the pumps will be completed in about a year.

About 1,200 of the state's 9,000 vehicles already are able to use E85, a fuel blend composed of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. But there are only three stations where they currently can fill up, in Annapolis, Baltimore and Hanover.

The state buys fuel on the wholesale market, where E85 was $2.92 per gallon versus $3.14 a gallon for gasoline yesterday, according to the state Department of General Services. Potential savings would vary on fuel prices and consumption, according to DGS officials.

Energy issues have been a large part of Mr. O'Malley's tenure, and he will give a policy speech on the subject during next week's address to the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City.

The governor already has set the goal of a 15-percent reduction in per capita energy consumption by 2015, doubled the renewal energy requirements for Maryland's electricity supply and directed the Maryland Transportation Authority to replace 500 buses with hybrids. Mr. O'Malley also mandated yesterday the Department of General Services use a 5 percent blend of biodiesel whenever possible.

"Taken together, these strategies will place Maryland at the forefront of what has become a national push, if not a world push, for stronger, more sustainable fuel systems," he said.

The potential benefits of ethanol, which largely is produced from corn, have become increasingly controversial in terms of its effect on food prices and the environment as farmers increase corn production. Mr. O'Malley said the state would be prepared for the "next generation" of cellulosic ethanol produced from sources such as switchgrass.

He admitted alternative energy is a guessing game at the moment but new technologies will be developed rapidly.

"Our future is speculative," the governor said. "We have to make targeted, responsible investments in the here and now that allows us to make incremental progress as quickly as possible with the alternatives and the technology currently available."

Although other alternative fuels work in niche situations, ethanol is the only one that is a competitive option right now, said Nathanael Greene, the director of renewable energy policy for the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group based in New York.

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