By Laura Fishman

Local efforts are coming together to create the first driver-owned ethanol station in the nation. Motivated organizers started the movement last September that eventually created the Cruzfuel Campaign, which will fight to make this a reality.

The campaign consists of 100 local community members who, in response to the global warming crisis, are pushing for an alcohol fuel station in Santa Cruz.

“It’s a very Santa Cruz kind of thing,” said Cruzfuel organizer Willow Simmons. “The idea is to use cellulose products to run your vehicle.”

With strong support from Santa Cruz residents and the mayor, the station is expected to be up and running by fall 2007. The initial cost to build the station is estimated at $100,000 and will be completely funded by private donors.

On Thursday, Apr. 26, over 50 people gathered together at the Live Oak Grange, on the east side of Santa Cruz, to discuss how ethanol has the potential to be a sustainable solution to global climate change. Ethanol is an alcohol-based product that can be made from corn oil or other recyclable products.

Cruzfuel Campaign founder David Blume promoted ethanol at the meeting by talking about the product’s purity in comparison to gasoline. He also spoke of common misconceptions about ethanol.

“There’s a lot of propaganda out there that says you don’t get more energy out of alcohol than you put in,” Blume announced at the public meeting. “It’s a boilerplate about how the oil company deals with alcohol as a gas.”

David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agricultural sciences at Cornell University, is one of a few scientists that still believes ethanol is an inefficient use of energy. Associated Press journalists have reported him as saying corn production causes more erosion than any other crop in the United States.

“I still think [the energy balance] is slightly negative,” he said to the Associated Press in 2006.

Along with the majority of the science community, Blume strongly disagrees with Pimentel’s research and believes it is only recognized because oil companies are backing him up.

“Pimentel’s study would have been academically embarrassed if the petroleum institute didn’t support it,” Blume said.

Now, members of the Cruzfuel Campaign are looking for a location to place the new ethanol station. David Blume sees this as the biggest challenge, because most land in Santa Cruz is already planning to be developed.

“Finding the right location has been unexpectedly difficult,” Blume said. “If we can’t get a station in the city then we’ll try to get a space in the county, which wouldn’t be as convenient.”

Community member investment is the sole source of funding for the driver-owned station. There is a 30 percent tax investment credit for alcohol fuel stations with benefits for an investor.

For example, if an investor puts $10,000 into the ethanol station, in addition to getting money back with interest, he or she will also get a $3,000 tax break.

Both Blume and Simons think funding for the station will not be a problem. They believe plenty of people will be interested in investing once they get a fixed site.

“There’s a lot of money out there, waiting to be put into this,” Simmons said.

After listening to Blume speak at Thursday night’s meeting, Salinas resident Gaven Reese applauded and conversed with others about the growing popularity of alternative fuels. As a member of the Foundation of Sustainable Living, he’s working to get the ethanol station up and running.

“I think it’s great,” Reese said to City on a Hill Press. “More alternative fuel stations are opening up in the area and they’re gaining growing support each month.”