Benefits of alternative fuels touted at Clean Energy Conference
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Concerns about the high cost of gasoline and the environment are fueling support for compressed natural gas, electricity and propane as alternatives to traditional gasoline and diesel fuel, speakers said at the Clean Energy Conference held today at Birmingham-Southern College.
Robert "Sid" McAnnally, vice president of external affairs at Energen, said the company began getting a surge of inquiries about compressed natural gas vehicles from customers this year as talk spread that pump prices could surpass the September 2008 Alabama record of $4.05 a gallon.
Though pump prices have fallen a bit in recent weeks, McAnnally said interest in CNG remains high.
"I think the alternative fuel movement will remain as gasoline costs continue to be historically high and people have concern about the environment and want to lessen dependence on foreign oil," McAnnally said shortly before making a luncheon keynote address during the conference, hosted by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.
Bob Strickland, who oversees the CNG program at Energen subsidiary Alagasco in Birmingham, said CNG cost the equivalent of $2 per gallon of regular gasoline. He said natural gas also reduces foreign oil consumption since 98 percent of natural gas consumed in the U.S. comes from North America.
"Ford, Chrysler and GM will all have natural gas powered pickup trucks on the road this year," Strickland said. "Those manufacturers wouldn't invest in CNG vehicles if they didn't believe that demand will continue to rise in the future."
Charles Ball, executive director of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, said the group came up with the Clean Energy Conference as a way to celebrate Earth Day and bring experts to educate the public about how alternative fuels can protect the environment.
A capacity crowd of about 100 people attended the event, which featured workshops and had booths from sponsors including CommuteSmart, EcoThree, Phoenix Energy, Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition and Precision Sales & Service.
"We want to make this an annual event," Ball said.
A go-cart powered by propane and several cars and trucks that use CNG were on display during the conference on the Birmingham-Southern campus. The speakers included Robin White, an Alabama Power executive who talked about the latest trends in electric vehicles.