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UTA may employ soy power

Eco-friendly move could save $750,000 a year

Utah Transit Authority buses could soon run on fuel made with a mixture of diesel and a soy product — a move that could save the budget-strapped transit agency more than $750,000 a year.

During a Wednesday meeting of the UTA Board of Trustees, general manager John Inglish announced that UTA has entered into negotiations with an Ogden-based supplier, Kellerstrass, to begin purchasing biodiesel fuel. A contract could be signed as early as January, said UTA spokesman Justin Jones.

The blend of the fuel would be 80 percent diesel, 20 percent soy, and is anticipated to be used in all UTA buses.

"This is something we're very interested in," said Jones. "We're doing this cautiously but very optimistically. If all goes to plan, we could be running off of biodiesel by the first of the year."

Besides a lower cost to users, biodiesel fuels are said to be better for the environment. The fuel, which is derived from vegetable oil and animal fats, has lower emissions and is biodegradable, according to the National Biodiesel Board's Web site,

"Biodiesel is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics," the Web site states.

Ken Montague, UTA general manager of support services, said Wednesday that disadvantages of the renewable fuel source include an inability to work properly at cold temperatures. Price can also be volatile because diesel and soy are both commodities, he said.

"This has been around awhile but there have been bugs to work out," he said.

Two years ago, UTA began testing biodiesel fuels on about 50 paratransit buses. The test worked well, but the supplier ran out of money to continue manufacturing the fuel blend, said Jones.

Unlike vehicles that run on natural gas, a vehicle that uses a biodiesel fuel doesn't require engine modifications. When first used, the fuel will clog filters more frequently, so UTA may have to spend additional cash to

replace the filters, said Jones.

But the agency will not be locked into using a specific fuel source if they change over to biodiesel, said Jones.

"We like long marriages, but we want to make sure we choose the right partner," he said.

Because of rising diesel prices, UTA is facing $6 million in additional fuel costs next year. The agency is considering a temporary 25-cent surcharge to combat the rising costs. Jones said money saved by converting to biodiesel could factor into a decision whether to implement the surcharge.

During Wednesday's board meeting, four low-income advocates protested the idea of a surcharge during a public hearing on UTA's proposed 2006 budget.

Three representatives from the Anti-Hunger Action Committee invited UTA board members to a special public forum about low-income transit riders. The forum will be Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 5:30 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Main Library.

UTA officials say they anticipate attending the meeting. Earlier this year, the agency held a similar forum at their Salt Lake headquarters.