Sharp Energy’s headquarters project fuels propane power alternative

9 Sharp energy dirt on shovels

From left, State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, Morgan Ellis of Clean Cities Coalition, Craig Crouch, CEO of Kent-Sussex Industries Inc., Michael McMasters, President/CEO of Chesapeake Utilities Corp., and Robert Zola, president of Sharp Energy/Austin Cox Home Services team up in the groundbreaking for Sharp Energy’s new U.S. 113 headquarters between Georgetown and Millsboro.

GEORGETOWN – Several shovels of groundbreaking dirt marked the spot for Sharp Energy’s consolidated headquarters that will create more jobs and in the not-so-distant feature a clean-burning fuel alternative.

Town of Georgetown, Sussex County and state officials joined representatives from Chesapeake Utilities Corporation, Sharp Energy and guest speakers Thursday at the construction site located at the intersection of U.S. 113 and East Piney Grove Road.

The new 18,000 square-foot building will provide a convenient, central location for both customers and employees and consolidate Sharp Energy’s operations. With the construction of this modern facility, Sharp Energy will be able to house its retail and supply functions in one location and increase its storage capacity.

The site will also be the future location of an AutoGas fueling station and 120,000 gallons of underground propane.

“The new headquarters building will be a state-of-the-art facility that will meet the needs of our employees and our company for many years to come,” said Sharp Energy President Robert Zola.

The $6 million headquarters building will house 40 employees, almost doubling the existing number of employees based in Georgetown, where Sharp Energy came into being under Chesapeake Utilities’ umbrella in 1980.

The construction project will create another 70 jobs.

The AutoGas fueling station – the sixth on the Delmarva Peninsula – will support Sharp Energy’s environmental initiatives in supplying clean burning propane to fuel the rapidly growing number of fleet vehicles in the area that now run on this clean-burning alternative fuel.

Morgan Ellis, coordinator for the non-profit Clean Cities Coalition that is focused on reducing dependence on foreign petroleum products, says propane AutoGas fits in that equation.

“It’s growing. There is more interest. People are calling to ask about this technology and what it can mean for them,” said Ms. Ellis, noting a small fleet of school buses in Kent County utilize propane. “We’re hoping that that is going to be an emerging market in Delaware.”

State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn spoke about propane’s homegrown role as a fuel alternative.

“Ninety percent of AutoGas is produced right here in the United States. That means we are not buying foreign oil. We are not buying oil from countries that don’t necessarily like us – but they like our money. But it also means that we are employing Americans to produce that gas and to have price stability,” Sen. Pettyjohn said.

Craig Crouch, CEO of Kent-Sussex Industries Inc., said his non-profit vocational rehabilitation organization based in Milford has 14 vehicles equipped to burn propane.

Transportation for KSI is a huge issue, with more than 100 individuals working at employment sites in Kent County as well as Millsboro.

“A big part of what allows us to provide that service is transportation. Needless to say our transportation system costs us about $2 million a year to operate,” said Mr. Crouch. “About five years ago … we started looking for an alternative fuel vehicle. We looked at natural gas; we looked at propane, and propane proved to be the viable fuel right now. It’s been a good move.”

“I never thought as a non-profit administrator that the first thing I do when I come to work is go to CNBC and see what propane is trading for and what the price of oil is,” said Mr. Crouch.

On the day of the groundbreaking, propane was trading at 61 cents per unit of fuel.

Add 42 cents in state and federal tax, propane’s price was $1.04.

“On the way (to the groundbreaking) the (gasoline price at) Wawa was at $2.33. You do the math,” said Mr. Crouch. “We’re saving $15,000 a month in fuel costs. It’s a lot easier to be good stewards of the money that you have rather than find new money.”

Mr. Zola thanked local and state leaders who helped “grease the skid to make this thing a reality and guide us through all of the processes to make this an easier process. We’re looking forward to this thing being open in the spring of next year.”

Sen. Pettyjohn noted propane’s role in a changing world.

“Here in Sussex County when you think of propane, you think of your barbeque, you think of heating your house. But that is changing. Transportation vehicles with propane is something that has been around for a while but as we have tapped into some of the reserves of fuel here in the United States you are seeing more and more of it and it is becoming more and more affordable,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “But in order for the passenger vehicles and buses, trucks and vehicles that move our goods from place to place, we need convenient re-fueling stations. To have something like that here in the center of Sussex County is going to be a great boost to the movement toward alternative fuels.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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