PSC's Echols promotes alternative-fuel sources

missioner Tim Echols said he bought a second-hand, 1999 Honda Accord that runs on compressed natural gas last year, because he felt he needed to live the energy-efficient lifestyle he was promoting on the campaign trail.

Echols admitted that the car only gets 200 miles per tank of fuel, causing him to suffer what he calls "range anxiety," because there are only two places in the state that sell fuel for his car. One is near the State Capitol, and the other is near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The fuel tank also takes up half of the trunk space that a gasoline-powered Honda Accord has.

Still, he said, he felt he needed to walk the walk, and talk the talk. "I'm willing to drive one of these cars because, all during the campaign, I talked about the importance of moving us toward an American resource, alternative fuel," Echols said. "I felt like, ‘You know what? I need to get one of these things and experience it to have the moral authority to talk about this.' So, I bought me this natural-gas car."

Echols talked to local Republicans about the benefits of using alternative-fuel sources, such as natural gas, and electricity, for cars during a meeting of the Clayton County Republican Party at Butch's Restaurant, in Jonesboro, on Thursday.

For Echols, a Clayton County native, the visit to Jonesboro was a homecoming of sorts. He said he graduated from North Clayton High School in 1978, and his grandfather, Ed Echols, served three terms on the Clayton County Board of Commissioners during the 1960s and 1970s. The public service commissioner now lives in Athens, he told attendees at Thursday's presentation.

Tim Echols was elected to the Public Service Commission in 2010, and is serving his first term on the utilities, transportation and telecommunications regulatory body.

Clayton County Republican Party Chairperson, Della Ashley, in introducing Echols, proclaimed: "We're really glad to have a Clayton County person in state government."

Echols told Republicans that while "I'm no little Al Gore," and "I don't have a piece of green on me," he thinks people need to consider alternative-fuel sources as, at least, an economical alternative to foreign oil.

"I like paying $1.92 a gallon," he told attendees at the meeting. "I like getting 36 miles to the gallon, but you know what I like best? I like using an American resource. You don't think that the problems in the Middle East right now are going to keep driving these oil prices up? A lot of you are going to come and try to steal my car the time it's all over."

Echols talked at length about using compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel source. He said compressed natural gas cars make up only one percent of the alternative-fuel-powered cars on the market, behind those using more well-known fuel sources, such as electricity, ethanol, and propane.

He said he would like the number of compressed natural gas cars on the roads to grow in Georgia, and eventually make up five percent of the alternative-fuel car market. He said it would likely take 20 to 25 years to reach that point, and that's if the state takes steps to promote it.

Echols said the Public Service Commission will soon be weighing a proposal to partner with Atlanta Natural Gas, to build 12 natural-gas fueling stations around metropolitan Atlanta, in an effort to help spur use of compressed natural gas-powered vehicles. He said $10 million from the state's Universal Service Fund would be used to get the partnership started, and Atlanta Natural Gas would run the fueling stations.

The lack of available places to fuel a compressed natural gas car has hindered the popularity of the vehicles in Georgia, he said. "You've still got to have a place that provides the fuel," he said.

After Echols finished addressing attendees at the Clayton County Republican Party meeting, he took some of them outside to show off his car. Hampton residents, Gene and Pat Hussey, said they were impressed Echols' knowledge of alternative-fuel sources, particularly compressed natural gas. Pat Hussey said she is a former Clayton County Tax Commissioner and knew Echols' grandfather. Her husband, Gene, said he was impressed that Echols could explain the issue in layman's terms.

"It was so informative," Gene Hussey said. "This was something that was interesting. He seemed to understand what he was promoting. He really explains it where even somebody like me can understand what he's talking about .... There's a lot of questions that come to mind, and a lot of people asking questions with this ..."

Pat Hussey added, "it's what we need a lot more of — informing the people, the citizens, as to what's going on, and what's out there."