The Valley’s first E85 fueling station serving the public has opened in Phoenix. Western States Petroleum opened the station at 450 S. 15th Ave. this week, said owner Bob Kec.
So far most customers have been National Football League officials in the Valley for the Super Bowl, with league vehicles that run on the blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
About 125,000 flex-fuel vehicles are on the road in Arizona that could run on E85, according to the Valley of the Sun Clean Cities Coalition, a group that promotes the use of alternative fuels.
Potential E85 buyers shouldn’t expect a regular fuel-station experience.
“This is not a typical gasoline station,” Kec said. “We fill the car for the customer, and then they come inside to pay with a credit card or cash.”
Western States is using that procedure to maintain safety at the yard and to make sure the vehicles are properly equipped to run on ethanol, he said.
The company, a wholesaler of petroleum products, is searching for traditional service stations across the Valley to sell E85, so far without success. A major reason is that service station owners have to install expensive equipment to dispense the alternative fuel, Kec said.
“So far we haven’t found a (service station owner) that wants to take the chance,” he said.
Western Petroleum was selling E85 at a price of $2.65 a gallon on Thursday. That looks attractive compared with the price of gasoline, but E85 gets about 15 percent less mileage per gallon.
For many service station owners, the numbers just don’t work, said Bill Sheaffer, executive director of the Clean Cities Coalition.
The ethanol used to make the blended fuel is supplied from an ethanol-production plant opened by Pinal Energy in Maricopa in mid-2007. The plant uses mostly corn shipped from the Midwest as a feedstock to make the ethanol.
The opening of the plant, the first in the state, created expectations that consumption of clean-burning E85 would grow quickly in Arizona, helping to reduce dependence on foreign oil. But progress has been slow.
“It’s a little like pulling teeth,” Sheaffer said. “I am disappointed it’s taking so long.”