Middlesex County is starting up a pilot program intended to evaluate alternative fuel vehicles and bio-synthetic fuels, both of which are more environmentally friendly and reduce vehicular exhaust emissions.

" The results of this pilot program will assist the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders in developing a plan to integrate alternative fuel vehicles into the county's vehicle fleet and we will evaluate natural gas and hybrid fuel vehicles as well as bio-diesel fuels during a four-month trial program," said Freeholder James Polos, Chairman of the Department of Public Works, in announcing the launching of the program in the presence of officials from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, representatives of PSE&G, and County officials.

"Our plan is to test vehicles powered by compressed natural gas as well as a vehicle powered by hybrid fuel, which utilizes electric power and gasoline. In addition to fuel efficiency, maintenance costs and purchase price, we will also evaluate the environmental benefits of using such vehicles," noted Polos who also indicated that he would propose to the Freeholder Board the adoption of a memorandum of understanding which would create a partnership with the Board of Public Utilities and the County that would provide a state subsidy to the county for the purchase of cleaner burning bio-diesel fuel for the Central Vehicle fleet. The goal is to have an alternative fuel vehicle in operation by early November with a report back to the Freeholder Board by March, 2004. In addition to evaluating the vehicles and fuels at the county level, Polos hopes that the county can become a model program for communities throughout Middlesex County.

"My intention is to schedule a forum with local officials and state representatives to afford them an opportunity to evaluate our alternative fuel vehicles, as well as the evaluating data we develop during the trial program. The convenience of having these vehicles and data readily available, will I believe encourage municipalities in the county to participate in a Clean Air Program. Government should set the example when it comes to the environment," Polos said.

Presently the State of New Jersey has a number of alternative fuel vehicles in operation and representatives have indicated great success with their use and maintenance, at a time when the manufacture of such vehicles has increased and additional models are now becoming available.

The State of New Jersey and the federal governmental already have in place subsidies for the purchase of vehicles and environmentally friendly fuels.

Middlesex County will take full advantage of the subsidies and rebates, as well as actively pursue additional funding to assist with this initiative and this very important pilot program, which will set the stage for a more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly fleet of county vehicles.

Polos also indicated that a cost benefit analysis will be done during the pilot program to specifically analyze all relevant costs including purchase pricing, vehicle longevity and maintenance costs to determine the "true cost" of alternative fuel vehicles as compared to gasoline vehicles.

Polos referred to this program as a "global initiative", that will evaluate readily available alternative fuel vehicles as well as environmentally friendly fuels so that a comprehensive long-range plan can be developed by Middlesex County.