Bio-diesel station opens in Connecticut River Valley

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(Host) When Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine he intended it to run on peanut oil. A century later, people are again looking to vegetable-based fuels. They see bio-diesel as a way to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on foreign oil. A caravan of bio-diesel devotees gathered Wednesday morning to celebrate a small victory.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) The line at Fleming’s filling station on this chilly morning is reminiscent of the oil shortages of the 1970s. But these vehicles are celebrating what may be a partial cure for the headaches associated with fossil fuels.

They’re waiting to fill their tanks at the region’s first bio-diesel gas pump. It’s in West Chesterfield New Hampshire, about a mile from Brattleboro. There are Volkswagons and pickup trucks and even a diesel-powered Toyota. Until this week, many of these drivers have been lugging tanks and pumping their fuel by hand.

(Rick Fleming) “There’s not a lot of retail sites right now where you can buy it. There’s I guess one down in Holyoke and one over in Rhode Island. And I think you’re going to see more and more petroleum retailers like myself putting this product out for the consumer.”

(Keese) Rick Fleming is president of Fleming Oil. The Brattleboro-based company operates several gas stations and delivers home heating fuel. Fleming says he’s been thinking about bio-diesel for a few years. But reliable supplies only recently became available.

The product is made in the Midwest from soybeans, and other crops. A Vermont company called Global E recently began local distribution. Bio-diesel can be used in any vehicle that runs on conventional diesel fuel. It burns more cleanly, and smells like frying food.

The New Hampshire station offers a 20% mix of bio-diesel and regular diesel fuel. Fleming says that’s a good winter ratio for New England, because bio-diesel tends to gel in very cold weather. It also helps cut down on costs. At $1.98 a gallon, bio-diesel costs a bit more. But Fleming believes many people are willing to pay for a more environmentally friendly fuel.

(Fleming) “Our industry for a number of years has sometimes had a black eye in the environmental area, and I think this is an important first step to bring a more environmentally responsible product to market.”

(Keese) Back at the gas pump, carpenter Brian Shaw is filling up his brand new Dodge pickup. He says his engine actually runs cleaner on bio-diesel. Shaw says his reasons for making the switch are political as well as environmental.

(Shaw) “We’re doing a lot to subsidize imported oil right now, I think militarily and otherwise. So it’s worth the extra money, cause we’re paying for it one way or the other.”

(Keese) Station owner Rick Fleming says he’s working on making bio-diesel heating oil available next winter.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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