As Americans are reminded of yet another consequence of the country’s dependence on oil, a large and influential group of consumers and national energy experts will meet in Las Vegas to decide the future of fuel consumption.
The era of oil is ending, says Annalloyd Thomason, director for the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute, an entrepreneurial organization for alternative fuels and vehicles. She says the environmental disaster caused by the British Petroleum undersea well leaks off the Louisiana coast reminds us that we need alternatives, or our energy supply is doomed.
The Alternative Fuels & Vehicles National Conference and Expo, scheduled for May 9-12 at the Rio hotel-casino, is the nation’s largest expo on alternative fuels and advanced transportation (afv2010.com). More than 1,000 people are expected to attend the event, primarily the crucial consumer group of government and private managers of vehicle fleets. They influence the type of vehicle manufactured for the general market. Conference sponsors include Toyota, Honda and America’s bailed-out automakers.
“Our conference is about fuels that are environmentally friendly, reproducible, renewable and able to sustain us in the future so we don’t have to worry about oil supplies and where those oil supplies are located,” Thomason says.
Decisions made at the conference affect availability and the price a consumer will pay for an alternative-fuel vehicle. But even if you don’t plan on buying a compressed natural-gas sedan any time soon, you’re still receiving a cost benefit in the form of tax savings, Thomason says.
“We’re buying more fuel-efficient vehicles, we’re spending tax dollars, we saved $250,000 in fuel costs last year,” says David Johnson, manager of automotive services for Clark County.
The county runs the largest hybrid fleet in the state. Ninety-five percent of its 2,677-vehicle fleet runs on alternative fuels, such as bio diesel, natural gas, electric, liquid propane and GDiesel, a mix of natural gas/methane and diesel. The city of Las Vegas is similar, with 93 percent of its fleet of 1,200 running green. About 60 percent of the Regional Transportation Commission’s fixed-route buses are either natural gas or diesel/electric hybrids.
A 1992 federal law mandating certain fleets to begin using alternative fuels started this change in the public sector, about seven years before the first Honda hybrid hit the market. Commercial fleets have been less inclined to make the large up-front investment, until the feds came up with an incentive they could bank on: green energy grants and subsidies.
“I plan on putting my big toe in to test natural gas vehicles in our fleet,” says Brent Bell, president and CEO of Whittlesea Bell Transportation, which operates more than 800 cabs, limousines and charter buses, along with an airport shuttle service in Las Vegas.
Bell says he will convert a handful of buses and cabs, and then gradually replace his fleet as manufacturers make more natural gas vehicles. Conversion costs are high. It can take up to $25,000 to convert a bus, but 80 percent of that can be covered by a federal grant.
Chad Lindholm, general manager of Clean Energy, believes Las Vegas can become an alternative energy hub. The company operates five stations in Las Vegas with plans to build two more.
“We anticipate a fuel market penetration in two to three years,” he says.
Lindholm will moderate the panel discussion The CNG Boon: The Expanding Marketplace in Las Vegas at the conference at 2 p.m. May 10.