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Alternative fuel cars roll into Savannah

Subheadline: 
Public can learn about benefits of vehicles, take test drives today at Civic Center

  • Alternate energy vehicles were on display at the Clean Energy Roadshow held at Savannah Technical College. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Roger Moore, left, from Smyrna, Ga. shows off a police interceptor demo that uses alternative fuel system at the Clean Energy Roadshow held at Savannah Technical College. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)

The Clean Energy Roadshow made a pit stop at Savannah Tech on Thursday, showing off an array of alternative energy vehicles including a shiny red plug-in electric Tesla Model S, a police car powered by compressed natural gas and an all-electric 46-passenger bus made by Los Angeles-based BYD.

Along with test rides, the show offered a series of talks highlighting the experience and knowledge of state and local experts in clean energy vehicles, from the greening of the DeKalb County vehicle fleet to the recent installation of a solar-powered charging station at Savannah's Thunderbird Inn.

Hannah Solar recently installed 156 solar panels on the Thunderbird's roof and on Wednesday added the electric vehicle charging station, creating what Pete Marte, Hannah Solar president and CEO, calls “PV to EV.”

“We’ve got photovoltaic feeding into the grid at the building, and that's feeding out to an electric vehicle charger,” he said.

The roadshow, in its sixth year, is the brainchild of Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who told the 40 or so attendees Thursday that he, his wife and their seven children have owned a natural gas car, an electric car, a propane can and a flex fuel car that ran on E85.

“All that anecdotal experience helped me learn about the technology,” he said. 

The show is a chance to spread that information and more to consumers, businesses and civic leaders around the state. 

Georgia is second only to California for its number of plug-in electric vehicles, with more than 23,000 registered. That silver medal status will probably soon be lost, though. The legislature last year revoked a $5,000 tax credit on the purchase or lease of plug-in electric vehicles and imposed an annual $200 road tax on them. Electric vehicle advocates cried foul on both counts, and a joint legislative study committee is looking at the issues this summer and fall. 

Still, vehicle owners like Jeff Vandeford, of the charging station developer Metro Plug-In, tout the money they save on fuel costs.

“I've gone from spending $400 per month in gas to $46 in electricity from my home,” said Vandeford, who drove his Tesla Model S to Savannah from Atlanta for the show and offered rides in it to anyone interested. 

Brad Norman, electric transportation program manager for Georgia Power, briefed the attendees on the incentives the utility offers for electric vehicles including a $500 rebate for chargers installed at businesses and $250 for ones installed at residences. More extended range electric vehicles are coming out and prices are dropping, he noted.

“We really believe the tipping point for mass adoption is going to come in the next few years,” he said.  

But electric was far from the only alternative fuel at the road show. Speakers stressed the need to fit the fuel to the vehicle’s purpose.  Natural gas in the form of compressed gas — and to a lessser extent liquefied natural gas — can power the heavy duty truck sector and reduce emissions compared to diesel. Where natural gas isn’t readily available, propane can fill in some of the lighter duty niches.

“There is no perfect fuel but there is a perfect alternative fuel for your application,” said Don Francis, executive director of Clean Cities Georgia, a public-private partnership to reduce the nation's petroleum usage. “You just have to figure it out.”

Clean Energy Road Show repeats today

The Clean Energy Road Show reconvenes today at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center on Hutchinson Island. The showcase of vehicles is 2-3 p.m. The inside seminar runs from 3-5 p.m. Free registration is available at www.afvroadshow.com/attend.html.

The event is hosted by the Georgia Municipal Association. This preview look at energy and alternative fuels is offered the afternoon before the convention opening.

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