DeSoto officials to pump interest in alternative fuel

Officials in DeSoto County hope an alternative-fuels "road show" will help drive interest, public and private, in a cleaner future. Meanwhile, the course will be cautious on any conversion of government fleets.

"We can't just run out and jump into alternative fuels, just because it feels good," said Bradley Wallace, director of operations for the city of Southaven. "But I can see us looking at some kind of progression, taking baby steps at first, in terms of making it happen by ourselves at the city and county level."

He and Jim McDougal, director of planning for the county, said they understand there's a certain level of initial suspicion regarding the economy, efficiency and availability of fuels using propane, hydrogen, electrical or biological sources.

"I can see this as the beginning of our educational and conversational process," McDougal said at Monday's meeting of "stakeholders" -- local government officials -- to hear about the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities initiative.

The government-industry partnership aims at reducing petroleum consumption in the transportation sector. Called by the Mississippi Development Authority's Energy Division, Monday's session was held at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven.

The area officials heard from state program manager Angelica Rawls that another gathering set for October on the Gulf Coast would be more like an "auto show" with actual vehicles and hands-on demonstrations. That's the sort of thing needed to jump-start interest in alternative fuels, the officials agreed.

"I'd like to put DeSoto County under serious consideration for one of the 'road shows,'" McDougal asked.

"People who are kind of suspicious on the front end will say, 'Oh, that's how it works,'" he said. "It helps people understand."

DeSoto Supervisor Bill Russell noted that the school district -- the county's largest employer -- has been retrofitting its buses to cut emissions. As to alternative fuels, decisions will come faster "when the prices catch up with the technology," he said.

"The technology's there now, but the demand's not there. If the demand were there, we'd be doing it today," Russell said. He added: "There's probably no savings in fuel costs, but there's a benefit to the environment.

"We'll be looking at it. That's just part of what we do."

- Henry Bailey

Click here to view the story on The Commercial Appeal.

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