East Mesa resident Ike Barker hopes he has figured out a way to beat the rising cost of gasoline.
On Thursday he was pumping E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, into his flex-fuel vehicle at $3.42 a gallon.
"I'm tired of oil company greed," Barker said. "There is no reason for the price of gas to be what it is."
For motorists like Barker looking for an alternative, E85 has finally arrived in the East Valley. Apache Sands Service Center at Main Street and Sossaman Road started offering the fuel to retail customers two weeks ago, becoming the first Valley service station in the Valley to sell it to the public, according to the Clean Cities Coalition, a group promoting alternative-fuel use.
Previously, the only other location offering E85 to the public was at the Western States Petroleum industrial service yard in west Phoenix, where fuel is blended and stored.
The alternative fuel has been slow to roll out in the Valley even though ethanol is being produced by Pinal Energy at a plant in the town of Maricopa and Western States Petroleum is capable of blending the fuel and distributing it to service stations.
But many stations face an hefty investment for new underground tanks and other improvements before they can offer E85. Apache Sands, however, already had a tank available and only needed to install a new dispenser.
"Everyone's complaining about you-know-what," said Apache Sands President Hal Fredrickson, referring to the rising price of gasoline. "The time was right (to begin selling E85)."
So far, sales have been "pretty decent," even though the company has done no advertising, Fredrickson said.
E85 has generated much controversy, with critics saying the corn-based fuel has contributed to rising food costs. Also, they say it offers no economic advantage because ethanol has a lower BTU content than conventional gasoline and consequently doesn't provide as much fuel economy. In fact, AAA Arizona said the average price of E85 corresponds to $4.33-a-gallon gasoline when adjusted to reflect its lower energy content.
But Brian Fredrickson, general manager, said E85 burns cleaner and pollutes less than gasoline. Customers filling up with E85 Thursday said they have not noticed any change in the performance of their flex-fuel vehicles, which are capable of running on either E85 or gasoline.
"I have heard of less mileage, but so far I haven't noticed it," said Wendy Vavra, an east Mesa resident who filled up her 2007 Chevy Tahoe with E85 for the second time Thursday. "As long as it gets me to where I need to go, I'm happy."
Michael DeLosSantos, another E85 customer, said he was looking for an alternative.
"Our dependence on foreign oil is beyond what anyone could have thought," he said, adding that he expects E85 availability to spread.
"With more public information, people won't be so fearful," he said.
Victoria Burns, an east Mesa resident, was filling up with gasoline because her vehicle is not equipped to run on E85. But she said she plans to buy a hybrid or flex-fuel vehicle later this year.
"The more we can get away from dependence on foreign fuel, the better off we'll be," she said.