The following is a long post that may only be of interest to US residents, or those abnormally interested in the state of E85 ethanol availability in California. For reasons that will become evident as you read further, Cali is pretty important in the grand scheme of things, and to Saab’s US BioPower plans in particular.
1985Gripen’s put most of this together, I’ve done a little foreground work.
A few years back, The Governator was all green and touchy-feely, announcing the purchase of over a thousand Flex Fuel vehicles for the state of California’s government fleet. The vehicles made their way into the state service and, of course, have been running on regular gasoline, not E85, ever since.
Because the vast majority of California doesn’t have any access whatsoever to E85 fuel.
Due to some perceptions of illegal procurement that are floating around, this farcical contract may now be coming back to bite Schwarzenegger on the butt (I’ll be back – ha!), but all that still leaves the important questions on the table – will Californian residents get access to E85? Is it important that they do? Is it important for Saab that they do? And what’s going on?
♪How are things on the West Coast? I hear you’re moving real fine…♪
Thanks for the “shout-out”, Interpol, but actually we’re not movin’ real fine. We’re barely movin’, I’m sorry to report. The problem is traffic congestion. Los Angeles just yet again earned the dubious title of “city with the worst traffic congestion” in the U.S. Thanks, what do we get?
Why am I constantly talking about Los Angeles and SoCal? Well, besides the fact that I’m a native (of Burbank, California actually), it totally rocks. It’s also got some importance to SAAB, too. Hear me out while I try and play “six degrees of separation” so that you can see where I’m going with this.
– The United States is SAAB’s largest market.
– One in eight Americans live in California.
– The State of California is home to over 36 million residents. The Greater Los Angeles Area is home to nearly 18 million documented residents (and a very large undocumented population). That’s almost twice the population of Sweden (which is just over 9 million).
– California is one of SAAB’s largest markets within the United States.
– California has some of the strictest emissions laws in the country, and is very progressive when it comes to alternative energy and new ideas.
– Within the City of Los Angeles is an area called Hollywood, which for some unknown reason receives national as well as international interest as to its goings-on and happenings. What is trendy in Hollywood often moves out from there. If carrying around a little dog in a handbag while wearing a skirt and Ugg boots is popular in Hollywood, it shan’t be too long before you’ll see young women wearing similarly inappropriate attire carrying a Chihuahua in an Yves Saint-Laurant handbag in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
SAAB USA gets this. A month ago or so SAAB USA President Steve Shannon speculated with me how desirable the 9³ BioPower convertible would be with the Hollywood elite. He asked, “what Hollywood star wouldn’t rather drive up to the red carpet in a SAAB convertible than a Prius?” Mr. Shannon pointed-out that there is a severe lack of E85 fueling stations in California though, with none at all in Los Angeles.
In fact, there is currently only one E85 fueling station in the state open to the public and it is about 150 miles away from Los Angeles in San Diego. There are three other E85 fueling stations, but they are on military bases and closed to the public, and two more public stations slated to open next year down in the San Diego area.
Los Angeles is slated to get its first E85 station. A new fueling station called Conserv Fuel has opened in the affluent Brentwood area of West L.A. and currently offers B99 bio-diesel for sale as well as the typical three varieties of unleaded gasoline, fortified with the usual 10% ethanol as required by state law. This mixture (E10) used to be referred to as “gasohol” (and it was good enough for James Bond’s SAAB 900 Turbo) but it’s what every gas station in California now dispenses.
Conserv Fuel has been teasing me with “coming soon” notations at the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition website for quite a few months now. I stopped-by today to see what I could learn.
I spoke with a representative of Conserv Fuel, Joy Cernac. She was very excited to report to me that just today she secured a source of ethanol which is not corn based, but rather locally-sourced waste! The station will soon dispense E85 containing ethanol created from waste wine and spirits. She tells me it’s wine and spirits that for one reason or another couldn’t be sold. I’ve never heard of such a source and I asked her if she’s sure that they can get enough of the stuff to satisfy demand. Ms. Cernac quoted how many barrels per time period she secured, and it was a lot (I remember “…hundred thousand barrels per…”). I wish I’d had a pen and paper to give you more information, but I just dropped by there on the way back from another business trip in Mexico, so I wasn’t wearing my TrollhattanSaab “reporter hat” at the time.
As you know, there’s been quite a bit of opposition to ethanol right now in the U.S. with various arguments (the one which really bothered Steve Shannon was this opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times), one of them being that it’s using food for fuel. I think it’ll be hard to argue that waste wine and spirits is using “food for fuel” in this case.
I took some photos of the station and a leaflet. Joy gave me her business card and told me that the info should be up on their website soon. I asked what kind of timeframe we’re looking at before they start selling E85 and she really couldn’t tell me. She’s been fighting through bureaucracy and red tape trying to get approvals. She’s already received approval from two city agencies, but is in the process of filling out paperwork for the local air management agency and local fire department licenses. The NEVA website has been updated to read “Coming October, 2007”. We’ll see.
The current per-gallon price of regular unleaded (87 octane) gasohol at Conserv Fuel is $3.07, “plus” unleaded (89 octane) gasohol is $3.19, and premium unleaded (91 octane) is $3.29. B99 is $3.49. For those of you who don’t reside in the U.S. that works out to:
$0.82 per liter for regular unleaded
$0.84 per liter for plus unleaded
$0.87 per liter for premium unleaded
$0.92 per liter for B99 bio-diesel
Fuel tax included. I know, it’s disgusting. And California has far higher fuel prices than the rest of the nation. And no state taxes based on the displacement of your engine or carbon dioxide emissions. Oil prices closed over $80 a barrel this week. The U.S. economy is weakening by the day as evidenced by the fact that the U.S. dollar trades at a record low against the Euro and the U.S. dollar dropped to the same level as the Canadian dollar for the first time since 1976. But can you tell in day-to-day life? Kind of makes you understand why people buy HUMMERs. Well, maybe not.
Current fuel pricing is available on Conserv Fuel’s website.
My personal hope is that someday these signs, seen all around California, will mean something once again.
Until then I can hope that SAAB will bring their BioPower cars over to the States and stars will be cruising around in SAAB convertibles, fueling-up at Conserv Fuels and other stations to sell E85. Hey, it’s better overall for the environment than running on E10 (which by the way, your Prius runs on, Miss Diaz)!
Hopefully, if ConservFuel can get their ethanol source sorted out, it won’t be too long before we see this sign complete with an E85 price, and then more stations like it around LA and the rest of Cali.
Saab will have a better BioPower market when they do, and the Governator might just be able to get his butt out of the sling!