Alt-Fuel Harassment Subsiding

State costs much lower than once expected

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It's been awhile since the alternative-fuel rebate program slipped from the front pages, but those sky blue and white license plates are still out there.

The plates that identify vehicles purchased under the program made participants easy targets for those looking for scapegoats. An elderly Payson couple went so far as to illegally remove the plates from their new Chevrolet Suburban to avoid "harassment" from fellow motorists.

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Local chiropractor Dr. Robert Sanders says most of the hatred surrounding the alternative-fuel controversy has dissipated, and the tell-tale license plate on the Chevrolet truck he bought through the program doesn't elicit any negative reactions.

Dr. Robert Sanders, a local chiropractor who bought a new Chevrolet truck through the program, said most of the hatred seems to have dissipated.

"I don't get any negative reactions whatsoever," he said.

One reason, he thinks, is that the problem has been solved.

"It was a vampire that they killed," he said. "People haven't forgotten, but it's not a breaking story.

"The reaction I get these days is that people are more interested in how the vehicle works, what does propane cost, how available is it, how hard is it to switch from gasoline to propane ... those sorts of things," he said. "They're more interested in the technical end of it."

Sanders said there were no restrictions on who participated in the program, and that he considers himself environmentally conscientious.

"I've always been interested in alternative-fuel vehicles," he said. "I have an electric-powered bicycle that I can ride back and forth to work on hot days."

Sanders got involved in the program before it had received much play in the newspapers.

"I heard about it through some friends, and called the dealerships and talked to some people," he said. "We certainly were in the market for a vehicle, so back in August, my wife and I went out and bought one at Chapman Chevrolet."

At the time, he said, it seemed like a good idea. "Hopefully it would help the environment, help the air, and save me a few bucks."

But it wasn't until mid-November that Sanders took possession because the vehicle first had to be converted by a company in Show Low.

"In the meantime all the stuff started coming out in the media," he said.

The total price of his vehicle with the conversion was about $42,500. "With the rebate I'm supposed to end up with a brand new Chevy four-wheel-drive truck for a little over $20,000.

So far, he has yet to see a penny of his rebate. "I finally got all the paperwork together and sent it in yesterday, and from what I've been hearing it takes about two months to process it," he said.

Jeff Kros, legislative liaison and public information officer for the Department of Revenue, said his agency is trying to reduce the processing time. "It's a very complicated legal situation, and the paperwork has to be carefully reviewed, but we are trying to get more people assigned to the project," Kros said.

Sanders is actually dealing with the Office of Alternative Fuels, a state agency cobbled together to sort the whole mess out. The latest numbers are encouraging, according to Sanders.

"It now looks like the total cost of the program should be around $200 million as opposed to doomsday forecasts of as high as $600 million," he said.

"The one thing that remains to be seen is what the effects of the lawsuits will be, like, for example, the guy who ordered the 600 trucks."

Kathy Peckardt, director of the Office of Alternative Fuels, confirmed his assessment. "To date, the program has cost the state $111 million, and while we won't know the final figure until all the tax returns have been processed, it is going to be much less than the high-end projections," Peckardt said.

As to those technical questions people ask him these days, Sanders says he doesn't keep close enough track of his mileage to know for sure how well his vehicle performs with propane versus gasoline, but he thinks it's fairly close. "The per gallon cost of propane is lower, but you have take into account the fact that propane gets less mileage and has 10-15 percent less power," he said.

Converting from one fuel to the other is as simple as throwing a toggle switch, and you can even do it while the vehicle is running. "The RPMs drop a little, but that's it," he said.

Three service stations in the area offer propane for alternative-fuel vehicles the Giant station, Payson Marketplace and the Star Valley Texaco. So far supply has not been a problem.

But Sanders still feels occasional regrets about what happened. "I feel bad that I somehow let my good intentions toward the environment and my own budget get me sucked into a boondoggle, and I feel chagrined that I got caught in the middle," he said.

But then he brightens and says that realistically it made perfect sense at the time.

"I don't have a staff of budget analysts like the legislature. I am my own budget analyst. So what am I going to do, pay $30,000 for a truck or $19,000? That's my budget analysis," he said. "And if it helps the environment out a little bit and pushes alternative fuels and cleaner running engines, great."

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