As Gas Prices Rise, Consumers Find Deals In Alternative Fuel
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Aired 3/8/16 on KPBS News.
Gas prices have been inching up over the past couple of weeks as we enter the most costly driving season of the year. But if you have a flex-fuel vehicle, you can buy gas for under $2 a gallon.
A couple times a week, Brittany Garcia fills up her SUV at Pearson Fuel in City Heights.
“It saves me like, I’d say $100 a week. It saves me a lot,” said Brittany Garcia, who commutes to the gas station from National City.
Special Feature E85 Fuel Pumps In San Diego County
Search for E85 fuel pumps in San Diego County
Garcia, a mother of four, is not buying regular gasoline. She’s in the market for E85, made up of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. The corn-based fuel was selling last week for $1.89 — nearly 50 cents cheaper than regular unleaded.
She said she only recently discovered she had a flex-fuel vehicle capable of using the biofuel.
“But it’s hard because a lot of gas stations don’t have it,” Garcia said.
A dozen gas stations in San Diego County offer E85, compared to 1,000 conventional stations. Most E85 pumps came online within the past few years, including four in 2015.
The fuel has recently averaged 50 cents to a dollar cheaper than regular unleaded — partly because it delivers fewer miles per gallon, depending on the vehicle.
“There’s a lot to overcome to get more folks kind of aware of the fuels and aware of the availability of these stations,” said Kevin Wood, alternative fuels specialist with the Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego.
Wood said the lower price of E85 more than makes up for the slightly reduced fuel economy. It also burns cleaner, reducing tailpipe emissions, he said.
“Ethanol has been getting cleaner over time as we figure out ways to grow the plants and produce the fuel,” Wood said. “It doesn’t pollute the groundwater. It doesn’t have some of the other issues with oil extraction."
Flex-fuel vehicles in San Diego County number 50,000 to 100,000, but many drivers remain unaware of the cheaper alternative fuel option, Wood said.
“For a hundred years we’ve been using pretty much nothing but conventional gasoline and diesel in our vehicles, so there’s kind of a lot of inertia to overcome,” Wood said.
For those with vehicles that use regular gasoline, prices have been ticking upward with the switch to summer blend. Even so, a gallon of regular unleaded is nearly a dollar below where it was at this time last year, and $2 cheaper than in 2011.
“The world is still awash in oil, and the major suppliers, although I think they’re going to meet fairly soon, I don’t think you’re going to see any cutback,” said Tony Cherin, finance professor emeritus from San Diego State University.
Cherin projects the summer outlook will be relatively stable.
“I don’t have a crystal ball beyond any stretch of the imagination,” Cherin said. “But my hope is that within the next month, several months, we’re not going to see gasoline above $3 (a gallon), and it probably is not going to go below $2 (a gallon)."
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