Wine Rack Receives 'Fuel Up Maryland' Energy Grant

Program provides funding to prepare stations for weather, power emergencies

WEST OCEAN CITY, Md. -- Ocean Petroleum LLC's The Wine Rack convenience store, retail wine and beer shop and gas station in West Ocean City, Md., is one of the first retail outlets to apply for and receive a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration's (MEA) new Fuel Up Maryland program, a new initiative to provide assistance to gas stations in the event of weather-related and other emergencies.

The $1.7 million grant program will provide funding for stations to prewire for backup power generation from portable generators, fixed generators or batteries. To qualify for the individual $15,000 grant, a station must have fuel storage of more than 10,000 gallons, sell at least 75,000 gallons of fuel per year and be one of the 650 stations located within a half a mile of an on-ramp or off-ramp of a Maryland evacuation route.

Ocean Petroleum will install generators at its facilities from one end of Maryland to the other in the near future, according to a report by The Dispatch. The Newark, Md.-based company operates four Wine Rack locations, three in Maryland and one in Virginia. It is also a motor fuels distributor offering the BP, CITGO, Crown, Exxon, Gulf, Mobil and Sunoco brands of gasoline, as well as the Oceanic brand.

The MEA's Paul Bollinger Jr. and other state and private partners conceived the idea after seeing Superstorm Sandy's effect on New Jersey and New York. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley included $1.7 million in his capital budget this year for the "Fuel Up Maryland" program.

"We thought about how we can make our state more energy resilient," said MEA director Abigail Hopper at The Wine Rack. "After Sandy last fall, we saw our neighbors up north waiting in long lines for gas and other fuels they couldn't access because there was no power at the stations and distribution centers. We met with gas station owners and distributors across Maryland and raised concerns and decided let's not wait until a storm hits, let's be proactive."

Ocean Petroleum COO Steve Ladd said, "We saw the situation last fall when our colleagues in New Jersey all lost power and there were cars waiting in line for miles to fill up. They were extremely frustrated because they had underground tanks full of gas and customers lined up for as far as the eye could see and there was nothing they could do about it."

Ladd said the Wine Rack will have emergency generators installed within the next few weeks.

"We're looking forward to being on full generator power within the next few weeks. We hope we never have to use it, but we will be prepared if we do," he said.

The Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station Association was one of the private-sector partners that worked closely on the program, the report said. "We appreciate the partnership with the state and companies like Ocean Petroleum on this," association technical advisor Jamie Brooke said. "This will help Maryland consumers get fuel in the event of a natural disaster. It's just a great idea to use these emergency evacuation routes."

Ocean Petroleum owner Ed Ellis agreed the program represented proactive thinking by Maryland and its partners, although he couldn't resist a playful jab at the state. "I think this is the first time we've ever gotten money back from the state after all the money we've put in over the years," he said. "In all seriousness though, this is an example of forward thinking and a great idea. …. I think there are a whole lot of gas stations over in Ocean City that ought to be included in this program. In the event of a natural disaster, you're going to want to have them on board. I know that sounds like I'm lobbying for my competitors, but I think that's important."

In the program announcement, MEA director Abigail Ross Hopper said, "Smart energy investments begin with keeping the lights on in our homes and businesses and ensuring that our citizens will have mobility options in the wake of an emergency. This grant program will make Maryland more resilient and prepared to help our citizens when they need fuel the most."

The grant program opened Aug. 15, 2013, and it will continue through June 2014. It will accept applications until all grant funds have been awarded.

The MEA's mission is to assist Maryland citizens and businesses to save money through smart investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy and conservation. A Maryland state agency, MEA fuels the creation of green jobs by providing funds and resources to expand the use and availability of clean, safe energy in Maryland.