Alternative fuels workshop in Hoover

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -  The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is reinforcing the push for alternative fuels. A workshop was held Thursday in Hoover.

It was sponsored by the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition. On hand were a number of vehicles powered by other methods than gasoline.

This included a Tesla sports car by Alabama Power Company. The vehicle was totally electric. "With my personal driving habits it would cost me 25 dollars a month if I used this vehicle."Cedric Daniels of Alabama Power said.

Other vehicles ran on propane, natural gas and biodiesel. Many officials attending the meeting say they are looking for ways to save money.

Trussville Mayor Gene Melton says switching to compressed natural gas will save his city money. "We are looking at the economic impact. It would save us and help us through these tough economic times economically."Melton said.

The workshop has attracted up to 150 which is the largest meeting about alternative fuels the group has had in Alabama. Many believe the oil spill in the gulf has increased interest. "If we can reduce our exposure and our money outflow to other countries for petroleum production. It would benefit the United States."Mark Bentley of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition said. So how soon can alternative vehicles be available? "Probably with my grand children. Quite frankly. Nothing is mandated. Everything evolves."Bentley said

Birmingham is hoping to travel in the fast lane, at least to Atlanta.  A feasibility study will begin in July and will last about a year. It will determine if a high speed train service will work between Birmingham and Atlanta. "Where it should run. What type of technology it should use. Whether you should use existing tracks or use an entire new set of track." said Charles Ball of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.

The year long study will cost $500,000. Georgia will pay $375,000. Northfolk Southern Railroad and the Planning Commission will pay $125,000.

Mayor William Bell says the study is important to Birmingham's future. "Mass transportation is going to be key to our economic future, to our energy future and our future of getting here to there."Bell said.

The group admits other states such as California, Florida and the Carolinas have a jump on Birmingham. Still supporters say it will benefit all of Alabama.

"It not only includes routes between Birmingham and Atlanta but include Huntsville and Montgomery and Mobile." Rep. Rod Scott of Fairfield said. The cost of building a high speed rail system is expected to be costly. Most hope the federal government will fit most of the bill but others hope the state of Alabama and local governments will contribute.

"I'm not saying that. You know our condition. It will have so much economic benefit for the county." Jefferson County Commissioner Bettye Fine Collins said.