Low-carbon fuel gives Calif. consumers more choices — and saves them money — at the pump

Two pickup trucks fill up on renewable diesel fuel at a Propel station in California. The state's Low Carbon Fuel Standard is helping offer consumers more choices at the pump. (Photo courtesy of Propel)

Two pickup trucks fill up on renewable diesel fuel at a Propel station in California. The state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is helping offer consumers more choices at the pump. (Photo courtesy of Propel)

By Mary Solecki

It’s been about 11 months since I’ve purchased petroleum.  No gasoline, no diesel. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own fuel use lately, since I live in California and the state is evaluating how to reduce our petroleum use. Recently, the state was even considering legislation that would set a goal for us to cut our oil use by up to 50 percent.

Sacramento lawmakers wondered how their voters would fill up their tanks and be able to get around affordably without oil – or at least that’s what some of the oil companies told them to worry about.

But I have experienced the exact opposite since I rid my life, and my personal finances, of petroleum fossil fuels. I still drive the same car, but thanks to some other policies in place in California, like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), I am able to fill up my diesel Volkswagen with renewable diesel at a network of stations called Propel.

This Friday, the California Air Resources Board will vote on the proposed re-adoption of the LCFS. This vote will signal to alternative fuel and transportation providers that California is serious about kicking its oil habit, and will result in a boon of economic activity through the remainder of the decade.

The early wins from the LCFS and other climate programs are already emerging.

Available biofuels are cheaper than unleaded gasoline. All year I’ve been buying a premium, renewable fuel and paying $0.20 – $1.00 less than unleaded. And guess what? My mileage got better! I used to average 39 mpg, but since I made the switch, I’ve been clocking 42 mpg consistently. Propel also sells flex fuel, an ethanol-based blend that also sells at a discount and can be used in many American-made gasoline vehicles.

There are so many other changes I’m witnessing all around me, and amazing technologies are taking foot. The big changes are happening, evidenced by hundreds of companies providing incremental new options.

  • Ride Sharing – Lyft, Uber and other mobility apps are making it not only easier to get around, but they are now offering carpooling options that reduce empty seats on the roads. Lyft finds some of their heaviest use happens between public transit and neighborhoods – meaning that more people are able to take advantage of public transportation because they can avoid the inconvenience of that last mile or two.
  • Car sharing – people in many cities are now opting out of owning a car that mostly sits idle and costs a fortune in parking and maintenance. Instead, services like ZipCar, that provide a car only when you want it are making single car ownership less necessary.
  • New vehicle choices – with electric cars increasing their range and lowering their price, more and more people are beginning to plug in. There are also many options at the consumer and business level for natural gas, and even Toyota will be introducing its first hydrogen vehicle this year.
  •  Infrastructure – electric charging stations, hydrogen and natural gas stations are popping up around the state. Like I mentioned, biofuels are being offered more widely, and even blended into gasoline on an increased basis.

As these technologies take root and grow, we’ll have greater access to affordable and efficient alternatives. Better yet, these technologies are happening right here in California – and across the United States. And policies like the LCFS are the hidden keys for more and more people to find themselves going months, and even years, without needing petroleum.

Mary Solecki is the Western states advocate for the national nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).