Virginia is moving forward to power its fleet of 10,000 vehicles with alternative fuels, ranging from biodiesel to propane to exotic mixes intended to ease the state's reliance on foreign oil.
The switch puts Virginia at the forefront among state governments seeking a break from traditional fuels, Gov. Bob McDonnell's energy adviser said Tuesday.
"No one, that I'm aware of, has looked at the entire state vehicle fleet to see what the opportunities might be the way we are," said Maureen Matsen, deputy secretary of Natural Resources. "We really want to lead on this."
Surrounded by a fleet of vehicles powered by alternative fuels, McDonnell signed an executive order that seeks a public-private plan to move the state's vehicles to alternative fuels. The news conference was conducted next to the Richmond Office of Fleet Management Services, which oversees approximately 4,000 passenger vehicles used by more than 175 state agencies and institutions.
"As we continue on the path toward making Virginia the 'Energy Capital of the East Coast,' it is important that we pursue all practicable and cost-effective options to promote the use of alternative fuel vehicles," McDonnell said in a statement.
"Today would be a great day for a solar-powered car," the governor said to the dozens of retailers, manufacturers and alternative fuel proponents sweltering under the sun.
The vehicles lined up for the news conference ranged from a van and a city garbage truck powered by natural gas, an all-electric Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus; an imposing looking propane-powered lawn mower; and a muscular biodiesel Ford truck.
Joe Thompson, president of Roush CleanTech, came with a Ford van powered by liquid propane. He said his customers include Fortune 500 companies.
"Our message has been really well-received because propane is American, it's available and it's abundant," Thompson said.
McDonnell acknowledged the manufacturers and dealers of the various alternative fuel vehicles.
"These entrepreneurs and other private sector partners will be critical to our success," he said.
The executive order signed by McDonnell calls for a number of steps before the fleet is operating on propane or natural gas.
The order directs the state Department of General Services and the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to survey the state's fleet for type and fuel habits; and to investigate the availability of alternative fuels and vehicles in the state.
A proposal on "the best available path ahead for moving state vehicles to alternative fuels" is due by May 2012.
"This is an opportunity for the commonwealth's public and private sectors, industry leaders and innovators to work collaboratively to move state government away from vehicles fueled by gasoline and diesel fuel and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," the order reads.
McDonnell also used the news conference to tout a recently signed law that allows Virginia retailers to offer charging stations for electric vehicles.
"With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, it is important to lay the foundation for providing our families with an alternative that takes advantage of energy produced right here in Virginia," said Del. David Bulova, a Fairfax Democrat and the bill's sponsor. "This bill helps pave the way for Virginia to be a leader on electric vehicle technology."