TAWC looking at compressed natural gas for buses

jcotton@timesobserver.com

While it might not be feasible for the Transit Authority of Warren County to covert its fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG) engines now, efforts are underway to facilitate a discussion that could benefit the authority in the future.

“We’ve had discussions about converting all of our vehicles to CNG as (the) primary fuel,” TAWC Director John Aldrich said at Tuesday’s meeting of the authority’s board of directors. “Some grant moneys are available to fund (the) project.”

But the problem is that the larger fixed-route buses cannot be converted. But looking to the future, Aldrich said the fleet is probably ten years from replacement. “I think in ten years that’s what we’d looking to do possibly,” he said of the conversion. “We’re interested, but we can’t do it with these buses.”

“There might be reason to pursue this now in order to be ready to jump into it if it makes sense… to our successors,” TAWC Board Chairman Tom Hessley said. He explained that he has drafted a letter to be sent to other fleet operators in the county, seeking to schedule a meeting to discuss “to see if public and private entities might have interest in pursuing this.”

He explained that there are two ways to fill CNG tanks. One is through a fast-fill process, similar to a standard gas station. The other is a slow-fill system that takes several hours. “That seems to be kind of cumbersome,” Hessley said. “(It) leaves everyone on their own.

“I’m thinking if somehow, some group either individuals or a consortium of public private (could) build a fueling station,” Hessley said, indicating that cost for such a station would fall between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Aldrich said the CNG fuel itself costs between $1.25 and $1.50 less per gallon than diesel. Hessley estimated a potential annual savings of $191,000 for ten trucks using an online estimator.

“Talk doesn’t cost us anything,” Hessley added. “There is someone interested in buying CNG vehicles, but the infrastructure is not there to support it.”

Noting that the oil in the vehicle’s engine stays clean longer, Hessley said, “There may be other lowered costs that might make it worth while. If it doesn’t rise as fast as other fuels, it seems to make economic sense.”

“I think the elephant in the room is going to be the fueling station,” Aldrich said.