Smith-Bell Petroleum, a business in Gainesville for about 80 years, introduced a new fuel alternative Thursday when the company has installed its first unattended tank for propane autogas.
Autogas is an alternative fuel that Jay Fulenwider, Pacific Pride marketing director, said is used by commercial fleets of vehicles, businesses with one or two vehicles or even an individual who drives a lot, for example 65,000 or 70,000 miles a year.
The fuel is an additional offering at a Pacific Pride station at 2312 Monroe Drive, which also offers unleaded gas, clear diesel and off-road diesel fuel.
The company held an open house and unveiling for its new fueling station with about 30 people, including Tim Echols, public service commissioner, who filled his van with the propane.
The location is the first in Georgia for unattended autogas fueling, John Nivens, president of Smith-Bell Petroleum, said.
He explained the business decided to install the alternative fuel to be ready for demand.
“We wanted to be ready for the customers we do have” if they wanted propane, Leslie Miller, vice president, said.
Fulenwider said Proctor & Gamble has told its haulers they must use at least 20 percent alternate fuel to continue hauling. He also said UPS is using autogas for much of its fleet.
“We’re seeing more and more people move in this direction,” he said.
The new station is the only location in Gainesville where the public may buy autogas, Nivens said.
The company worked on the project for about a year, Miller said. Most of that time was taken up with the approval process for permits, including an OK from the Internal Revenue Service, Fulenwider said. He said the grand opening was first planned for fall 2015.
The fueling station cost the company $70,000, officials said.
Fulenwider touted the savings with autogas. He said the price now is about $1.80 a gallon when gas is $2 or a bit more — and likely to increase.
He also said users can get a 50 cent per gallon tax credit at the end of the year — pushing the price down to about $1.30 per gallon.
“Gas is fixing to be about twice that,” he said.
Fulenwider said a conversion to autogas is economical for anyone “that’s going to drive a lot.”
Echols also pointed to savings. He said officials at Groome Transportation, which offers rides to the Atlanta airport from as far away as Chattanooga, Tenn., saved $1 million a year when it changed to autogas.
In addition to the price savings, using autogas is cleaner than gas, Miller and Fulenwider said.
Miller said customers who use autogas should see savings on vehicle maintenance because it burns cleaner than gas.
Pacific Pride has more than 100 customers. Miller explained customers have contracts with the company that outline when and how often fuel is gotten and how much is consumed. She said similar contracts are available for any autogas customers.
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