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Published: Sunday, 5/7/2006

Ethanol attracting buyers with firm convictions

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Billy Miller of Trenton, Mich., drives out of his way to fill his minivan with ethanol. While the fuel costs less than gas, users cite U.S. dependence on foreign oil as a compelling reason to use it. Billy Miller of Trenton, Mich., drives out of his way to fill his minivan with ethanol. While the fuel costs less than gas, users cite U.S. dependence on foreign oil as a compelling reason to use it.
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Retired educator Billy Miller admits he's never felt strongly enough about an issue to write to the President of the United States and members of Congress.

Until now.

"I wrote on this because I think ethanol is going to help get the oil issue off our backs. ... It will free us from Iran and Saudi Arabia and the others," he said, while filling up his 1999 Plymouth Voyager in Toledo with ethanol fuel.

The Sterling station on Alexis Road between Jackman and Lewis is the only one in Toledo with E85 fuel, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. The station is a weekly stop for Mr. Miller and his wife as they travel between their homes in Trenton, Mich., and Catawba Island Township in Ottawa County, even though the stop adds about eight miles to the trip.

The alternative fuel, he conceded, gets worse gas mileage - 16 miles per gallon versus the 20 miles to the gallon he gets with regular gas. But he noted that E85 is cheaper.

The cost - $2.47 a gallon for ethanol versus $2.77 for regular gas on a recent day - is what brings Jerry Mann to the Sterling location from his south Toledo home. "With the way gas prices are going up, it's good to have [an alternative]," he said, while filling up his 2002 minivan.

Gary Hesley drives to the station from his home near McCord Road in Sylvania Township to fill up his 2000 Chevy S-10 pickup.

"With gas prices getting the way they are, I figured any way we can cut down the consumption of gas, why not," he said. "I just wish there was a station closer to my home."

Northwest Ohio has three stations selling E85 and southeast Michigan has one. The Michigan site, in Adrian, has had steady business in the three months it has sold the alternative fuel.

"It's going good. Sales are getting better every day because a lot more people are learning they can burn it," said Gayle Radant, of the Lenawee Farm Bureau Oil Co-op on South Adrian Highway in Adrian.

Some drivers, he said, have come from miles away because they feel strongly about supporting American farmers.

"They'll drive a distance because they want to buy the corn-based rather than the oil-based gas," he said. "They want to support the farmers instead of the big oil companies."

Escalating gas prices, a growing fear of the country's dependence on foreign oil, and a desire to support area farmers were reasons given recently by Toledo drivers buying E85.

Their choice is applauded by the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group whose sole purpose is to promote E85 as a form of alternative transportation fuel.

Drivers can go on the organization's Web site, www.e85fuel.com, to get a list of vehicles that can use ethanol.

Newer vehicles usually have a sticker inside the gas tank access door clearly stating that E85 can be used. Drivers should not use ethanol in a vehicle unless it's designated for ethanol by the maker because the fuel can corrode the gas tanks of incompatible vehicles.

Statewide, Ohio has nine locations that sell or will soon sell ethanol gas, and Michigan has five, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

In addition to the stations mentioned, area drivers can also find E85 at the Antwerp Marathon station, 304 West River Rd. Miller's Gas at 1444 Whitaker Way in Montpelier, plans to open a pump shortly.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at: mmclaughlin@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.



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