Due to the state’s lack of in-state production and pipelines, most Florida gas stations rely on ships to carry fuel across environmentally sensitive estuaries – when the weather permits.
St. Petersburg-based Belvedere Terminals plans to mitigate that dependence through a $750 million fuel infrastructure investment. They believe developing multiple storage and supply facilities will also lower pump prices, particularly during hurricane season.
Tim Schwarz, chief financial officer, told the Catalyst that the new terminals would take 100 semi-trucks off the road daily. He said the capital investment would create thousands of construction jobs and provide over 200 high-income careers.
“Every gallon of gas people consume in Florida comes over the water into ports,” Schwarz said. “It’s expensive, vulnerable and subject to significant disruptions whenever there is severe weather.”
Company president Edwin Cothron is a sixth-generation Floridian and St. Petersburg resident. Schwarz said Cothron launched Belvedere Terminals about six years ago.
He said Cothron previously developed gas stations throughout the state and realized Florida’s myriad fuel supply chain vulnerabilities. The company is now planning and developing storage and supply terminals in Jacksonville, Ormond Beach and Fort Pierce.
Belvedere plans to add another seven locations over the next five years. Each facility could store about 300,000 barrels of refined fuel, Schwarz said.
Employees load Gulf Coast refinery products onto trains at the company’s Mississippi hub using “state-of-the-art” safety standards. The fuel then travels along existing railways rather than interstates to storage locations throughout Florida.
With air transportation permits in Ormond Beach and Fort Pierce, Schwarz said the company could “theoretically” distribute 375 million gallons of ethanol, biodiesel, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel annually. However, he admitted that Volusia County and Ormond Beach officials have expressed concerns over that site’s location.
“It’s relatively small and incredibly safe,” Schwarz said of the proposed facility. “We’re very proud of our safety measures and those state-of-the-art systems we’re incorporating into everything we do.”
He noted that federal authorities mandate a .1% emissions standard and said Belvedere’s systems register a .01%. “Every opportunity we have, we go above and beyond current standards,” Schwarz added.
He said preliminary analysis shows that rail and short-haul trucks release less carbon into the atmosphere than Florida’s ship and long-haul trucking method. Schwarz also believes storing millions of gallons of fuel outside ports could reduce pump prices by 10% to 15%.
Customers would see increased benefits when the U.S. Coast Guard shutters ports during hurricanes, Schwarz added. He said company leadership also works with state emergency management officials to ensure first responders have enough fuel during catastrophes.
“We made it clear that we’re not coming in asking the state for money to build this,” Schwarz said. “We’re … saying, ‘Given that we’re building this, how can we help you.’ In some instances, the state has asked us to go to certain locations that they have challenges with – we’re investigating that.”
Belvedere officials remain unconcerned about the rising popularity of electric vehicles. Schwarz said the state’s population growth mitigates that trend, and they expect to see returns on their $750 million investment through 2055.
In addition, he said Belvedere is working with companies to increase methanol production. Schwarz noted that Porsche uses the more environmentally friendly fuel in its racing fleet, and consumers could use it in gasoline engines.
“You would have about the same carbon footprint as a Tesla,” he said. “There are alternatives that can be shipped through our system and sold in gas stations.
“I think it’s safe to say that some form of an internal combustion engine will still be used for a long time, even if it’s a declining percentage.”
Belvedere has no plans for a local terminal, as the proximity to Port Tampa Bay negates the benefits. However, Schwarz said the company would continue operating from St. Petersburg and is looking for a larger headquarters downtown.
He said the company’s growth would create additional support services jobs, and Belvedere’s leadership and employees continue investing in the surrounding community,
“I would like us to be one of the most prominent, well-regarded corporate citizens in St. Petersburg,” Schwarz said. “That’s our goal.”