Long lines at gasoline pump result from ethanol promo

Yogi Berra might have described the scene as déjà vu all over again—cars lined up for half a block or more, two abreast, waiting to reach the gas pumps. Anyone old enough recalled the long lines of frustrated drivers back in the 1970s, when an Arab oil embargo created shortages and sent gasoline prices higher than anyone imagined they could go.

This line developed not from a shortfall but from a recent ethanol promotion, sponsored by Kroger, General Motors, the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, and Texas Corn Producers. Folks gladly waited in line for a 50 cents per gallon savings on gasoline at the Denton, Texas, Kroger fuel station.

In addition to the cheaper gas, motorists had a look at two new GM flex fuel vehicles, a Tahoe SUV and a Colorado pickup, both equipped to run on 85 percent ethanol. An Indy-type racecar replica reminded folks of a Texas race scheduled for the weekend. Indy cars now run on 100 percent ethanol, says David Gibson, executive director of the Texas Corn Producers Board.

Gibson says similar promotions in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio also drew good crowds. “Similar events are going on across the country,” he says.

The goal is to inform consumers that ethanol is available. Gasoline in the Dallas area contains 10 percent ethanol.

“We’ve heard no negatives about performance with the ethanol blend,” Gibson says. “Initially, we heard about logistics problem with transportation, infrastructure and distribution bottlenecks.”

He says E-85 is cheaper than gasoline “where it’s available. That’s mostly along I-35 in Texas.”

He says some potential customers call and ask when an E-85 facility will be available in more areas.

“Demand is growing every day and 12 new facilities offering E-85 should be on line by next spring. Kroger, HEB and a few other chains are beginning to offer the blend,” Gibson says.

The demand already has been good for Texas farmers. Gibson says fall prices range from $3.75 to $3.80 a bushel. “That’s from $1 to $1.50 a bushel better than last year. And that’s a significant impact on farm income.”

Much of the ethanol will be home-grown with four ethanol plants either just beginning or well on the way to completion in Texas. Gibson says one plant in Hereford should be operational this fall with two others on line in the High Plains by early to mid 2008.

Texas corn growers are poised for a good year, Gibson says. “We’re set to make a big crop. We have more acreage and more yield potential than anytime in the seven years I’ve been working the entire state. It could be one of the largest crops on record.”

He says acreage, estimated at 2.1 to 2.2 million acres, will not set a new mark but is close to an all-time high. Good soil moisture across most of the Texas corn production area has helped.

“We have a few dry spots and a few areas with flooding damage but the crop looks good so far.”

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