Except for one, all state departments required in 2007 by the Tennessee Legislature to make better use of alternative fuels, synthetic lubricants and low-emission vehicles are falling short of their objectives.
A state comptroller report released Monday said the Board of Regents is the only one of four departments on schedule to cut its petroleum-product consumption by at least 20 percent, in keeping with plans the agencies submitted last year.
“The Department of Transportation reports that it cannot meet the goal because of difficulties in accessing biofuels, while the Department of General Services stated that due to the lack of infrastructure for obtaining alternative fuels, meeting the objective will be challenging,” according to the Division of State Audit (pdf). “The University of Tennessee did not say conclusively whether the target would be met.”
While “considerable efforts to comply with the statute” have been made, the report continued, “external factors are barriers to full implementation.”
The departments blame a shortage of both tax dollars and gas stations that sell alternative fuels for their failure to meet the reduction targets.
“Right now, it is essentially a challenge because of the limited availability of biofuels,” said Julie Oaks, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, where 70 percent of their light-duty vehicles take both ethanol, known as E85, and gasoline.
Agencies with a fleet of 10 or more vehicles are required to report their efforts to curb petroleum use each year — with the goal in mind of cutting their 2006 fuel-usage totals by one-fifth.
Only the Board of Regents, responsible for 45 universities, community colleges and technology centers, is meeting their objectives, according to the auditor’s “Analysis of Plans to Reduce the Use of Petroleum Products.”
Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, said he too has trouble reducing petroleum usage at his trucking business, Big G Express, calling it a constant struggle.
“The only way to use less is to quit going,” he said.
Marsh, who won a sepcial election earlier this fall and is now the newest member of the House Transportation Committee, said his company would switch to alternative fuels if it would save money, but so far it doesn’t. All 350 of the semi-trucks in his fleet still use regular diesel.
The comptroller’s report indicates departments have gradually been replacing older vehicles with hybrid or flexible fuel autos, but have yet to reach the Legislature’s benchmarks.
At the Department of General Services, which oversees state agencies, 1,800 of its 4,900 vehicles are now flex fuel vehicles, which use E85 or B20 fuel in place of traditional gasoline, said Terry Landsey, the agency’s vehicle manager. Another 40 vehicles are hybrids.
Landsey said agencies have also been meeting via teleconference to try and minimize drive time.
The University of Tennessee also fell short of the 20 percent reduction.
The higher-education system’s 193 hybrid and flex fuel vehicles on the campus lots make up 18.3 percent of the motor pool inventory. Of the 90 new E85 friendly sedans, minivans, passenger vans and light duty trucks UT planned to purchase, only 17 were actually purchased, according to the comptroller’s report.
While hybrid vehicles make a dent in department budgets, Landsey maintained that the energy-saving autos will begin saving the state money after three years. Next year, the university plans to buy 94 new vehicles, but those numbers are also subject to the budget constraints.
The university is also buying in a 12,000-gallon E85 tank for the Knoxville campus in January. The tank will offer enough alternative fuel to reduce the school’s petroleum use by the target amounts, said Jay Mayfield, university spokesman.
E85 now is cheaper than gasoline, but it isn’t as powerful and results in lower mileage. Government officials said they’re hoping technology will improve over time and it’ll become more profitable to offer alternative fuel selections at the retail pump.