By Nao Braverman
Concerns about global warming and soaring gas prices have drawn ample attention to the variety of alternative fuel vehicles now on the market.
Consumers can chose between a hybrid, a bio-diesel engine, or a car that runs on ethanol. But if you live and drive in Ojai, you probably shouldn’t choose the latter, unless you know how to make moonshine in your basement.
Ojai resident Melissa Baugher could tell you why. She purchased an E-85 compatible Chevrolet Tahoe, about a year ago, but has yet to fill it with anything but gas.
That’s because there isn’t any ethanol around, unless you want to drive all the way to Los Angeles. And then you’ve already spent $30 just to get there and back, she said.
Baugher had read about ethanol-compatible vehicles on the internet and was concerned about rising fuel costs. So when she bought her Tahoe for about $35,000, she readily paid an extra $4,000 for an active fuel management system, and E-85 compatibility.
At the time, ethanol was still slightly more expensive than gas. But it is supposed to get better mileage, and is better for the engine, she said. Baugher was happy to get the car that she wanted, which had lower fuel costs than other SUVs.
What the car dealer at Paradise Chevrolet in Ventura didn’t tell her was that the closest ethanol pump was in Brentwood.
“If I drove to L.A more often it might be useful, but I live and work in Ojai,” said Baugher.
While ethanol pumps have spread rapidly in the Midwest, there are still only 10 fueling stations in California that have ethanol. Most of them, unfortunately for Baugher, are currently split between the San Diego area and the northern part of the state.
A Paradise Chevrolet salesman told the Ojai Valley News that ethanol service stations would soon be heading toward Ventura County. But recent controversy over ethanol’s environmental impact might decrease the likelihood of that happening anytime soon.
Media coverage of the negative consequences of producing the alcohol-based fuel has tempered the ethanol boom. Critics of ethanol say that increased ethanol production in the United States has contributed to food shortages and rising food costs by using so much corn. Some experts say that ethanol refineries are actually raising smog levels in the areas where they are most prominent, according to an Associated Press article.
Brazil’s sugar cane-based ethanol industry, one of the largest in the world, is contributing to deforestation as more trees are being cut down to make room for sugar cane fields.
Investors who bought into the industry are getting less returns than they had hoped for, according to an Associated Press article.
Still, for those who live or work close enough to an ethanol pump, E-85, which was once a little more expensive than gas, is now a little cheaper, thanks to rising costs of petroleum.
At the Conserv Fuel station in Brentwood, ethanol is $3.59 at the pump while gas has gone up to $3.97. But it would take a while to make up the extra $4,000 that Baugher paid on her car for flex-fuel compatibility, or even with the current extra charge, which has gone down to $2,000 at Paradise Chevrolet.
Local residents should be duly warned; car dealers might be getting a bit ahead of themselves. A salesman at the Ventura-based Chevrolet dealer still touts the benefits of flex-fuel Tahoes without mentioning outright that there are still no E-85 pumps available to the public in the entire county.
By Nao Braverman