Stimulus funds supporting clean fuel

America can have a cleaner, greener economy, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a visit to Richmond yesterday, and the federal economic stimulus package is helping to make that happen.

"It's almost a godsend," said Joseph G. Baker Jr., president of family-owned Baker Equipment in Richmond.

With the recession eating into its traditional lines of business, the specialized truck company sees a growing market in making commercial vehicles able to run on alternative fuels.

Baker Equipment was installing a propane fuel system in one of Arlington's Red Top taxis yesterday, work paid for out of a $8.6 million federal economic stimulus grant.

The grant will cover the purchase and installation of almost 1,200 of the clean-fuel systems and for the construction of 25 propane -- referred to as autogas -- refueling stations along major roads in nine Southeastern states.

"It's given us critical mass," Baker said. "This one program gives us the opportunity to pursue other options that do not have to be funded by the [U.S.] Department of Energy."

"The work happening here at Baker Equipment is a great example of the impact the Recovery Act dollars are having in cities and towns across the country, putting people to work and helping make rapid advances in emerging industries like clean energy," Vilsack said.

The propane-conversion program has created 47 new jobs, officials said, with one of those at Baker Equipment.

American Alternative Fuel has sold about 4,000 of the propane fuel systems in the United States, said Matthew J. Sgambettera, managing director of the West Coxsackie, N.Y., company.

"It's not really ready for retail," Sgambettera said. "We need to have more infrastructure development before we can have retail buy-in."

"It was really meant for fleet use," he said. So far, 17 vehicle fleet operators have signed on to the program.

About 190,000 vehicles run on autogas systems, according to the Autogas for America group. The group said propane is historically less expensive than gasoline or diesel fuel.

Propane is produced as part of natural gas processing and crude oil refining.

Vilsack said his visit to Richmond was part of an Obama administration campaign to drum up appreciation for the president's efforts to revive the recession-snared economy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

- Peter Bacque

Click here to view the story on Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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