If you haven’t noticed the changing look of gas stations throughout the Bay Area, you will soon. Separate biofuel pumps are being installed in many current stations. But one place you won’t find them is in the Bay Area’s largest city. And the reasons for why San Francisco is out in the cold are strangely mysterious.
A Redwood City, CA-based firm – Propel – has embarked on an aggressive program to install new biofuel pumps in existing gas stations throughout the West Coast. A review of their website shows 24 “clean fuel points” currently in use including one that opened with much fanfare just weeks ago at a Valero station in Redwood City.
Missing on this list however is San Francisco. When asked why Propel has no pumps and no immediate plans for installing any in the City-by-the-Bay, a spokesman for the company explained that “it is a matter of finding the right site, with the necessary space for the company’s equipment, among somewhat limited options in the city…”.
There is currently only one biofuel station in all of San Francisco – Dogpatch biofuels – which opened in 2008. So the natural suspicion is that San Francisco must have very tough permitting requirements that are discouraging companies like Propel from installing their pumps.
However, a check with the city’s planning department revealed that there are no special permitting demands beyond what any gas station operator would need to add new pumps. According to an official with the department, Propel has not applied for any locations in San Francisco, although the company’s executives have described plans to open as many as 75 new pump locations across California in the coming year. So if you want biofuel in SF, Dogpatch is it.
Elk Grove? They’ve got Propel’s biofuel pumps. So does Fremont and Berkeley. San Jose has two locations. As more cities join the parade, it becomes increasingly odd that California’s second largest city is missing in action.
Biofuels can be made from a variety of sources (such as vegetable oils) and are viewed by many as the best alternative to standard gasoline products. The fuels have been widely touted as much cleaner burning and contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gasses. And a lot of big auto manufacturers are getting into the act too, producing cars that can run efficiently on the “flex fuels.” This includes models made by Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz.
There’s also another good reason for using the fuels: they cost less. On average, biofuel at Propel’s pumps are running 25 to 50 cents less per gallon than standard gasolene, although this could soon change if ethanol fuel tax incentives are not renewed by Congress.
As more “flex fuel” cars hit the roads and drivers embrace the alternative fuel revolution, it would not be surprising to see demand take off especially in the environmentally-savvy Bay Area. But if you are driving one of these cars around San Francisco, just make sure you’ve got a full tank.