Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks held a press conference recently to provide information about two departmental programs that promote the use and development of alternative fuel and energy resources.

Eleven vehicles from the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries’ (ADAI) fleet are a part of a pilot program aimed at cutting transportation costs and preserving the environment through the use of the cleaner fuel option, propane. ADAI is the first state agency in Alabama that has completed the vehicle conversion process.

There will be a comprehensive study comparing these 11 vehicles to other departmental vehicles that run on gasoline. The goals are to examine the cost savings and fuel efficiency of the LP fuel compared to gasoline and diesel fuel. This study will last for 36 months.

“It is our hope the pilot program will show transportation costs can be reduced while also using a cleaner fuel,” stated Sparks. “I want to thank the Alabama Propane Association for all their efforts in putting this project together.”

The Alabama Propane Gas Association obtained a $65,000 grant from the Propane Education and Research Council to study the results of vehicles converted to propane. Knowing the commitment of Ron Sparks and the Department of Agriculture and Industries toward alternative motor fuels, the Association approached the Department with the project to convert 11 of its vehicles to run on propane. Alliance Auto Gas had the vehicles converted and trained the Department’s employees on the safe refueling of its newly converted vehicles. In addition, Alliance will work with the Department on all aspects of the converted vehicles.

“We are pleased that the ADAI is assisting us with this study,” says Lisa Fountain, executive director of the Alabama Propane Gas Association. “After collecting and analyzing the data, we believe we will have the results necessary to show other state and local agencies as well as private fleets that the investment in converting fleets to clean burning propane is well worth the costs due to the savings in fuel costs, maintenance costs and the positive effects of propane on the environment.”

Propane is one of the nation’s most versatile, clean alternative fuels fueling more than 10 million vehicles worldwide. Opportunities exist to expand propane’s use in the state of Alabama as a cost-effective strategy to limit vehicle emissions and reduce dependency on foreign oil. Propane has been used as a transportation fuel since 1912 and is the third most commonly used fuel in the United States, behind gasoline and diesel.

In addition to the update on the Department of Agriculture & Industries’ propane vehicle project, Sparks also announced details about a new loan program implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA has selected Alabama as one of the recipients of a loan program for economic development in rural communities. This loan will provide a $500,000 loan at a 1 percent interest rate to the state that can be relent to businesses throughout Alabama targeting applicants who propose investments in alternative fuel production and delivery, businesses in low income and high unemployment areas, and minority and women owned businesses.

The Department of Agriculture & Industries’ Center for Alternative Fuels began the process of applying for this program in late 2007. The $500,000 loan was approved by USDA in September of this year. However, the use of the loan was expanded beyond just alternative fuel development and contributing to America’s energy security to include minority-owned and women-owned businesses in high unemployment/low income areas. This now specifically benefits counties within Alabama’s Blackbelt.

Once the money is re-loaned through ADAI to businesses and entities that qualify and a positive cash flow is evident, the department can reapply for more money and expand the use throughout the qualifying counties and to various businesses.

“We hope to continue to focus on alternative fuel development and delivery as we believe these kinds of businesses in rural and qualifying areas will enhance energy security and job creation,” stated Sparks.

The qualifying counties include: Barbour, Bullock, Choctaw, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Montgomery (not in city limits), Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter and Wilcox.