TAWC considers alternative fuels for vehicles

Gasoline and diesel fuel or natural gas and propane?

At its meeting Thursday afternoon, the Transit Authority of Warren County’s board of directors discussed with industry and public officials the feasibility of changing its vehicles over to natural gas or propane.

Thomas Hessley, board chairman, said the TAWC fleet composed of five 30-foot buses, 15 smaller buses and “a couple of sedans” uses between $15,000 and $17,000 worth of fuel each month.

“We need to get the most bang for our buck,” he said. “There is some movement in the state to put compressed natural gas (CNG) on the street, with an approved vendors list.”

He noted that the large Gillig buses aren’t suitable for conversion, but if a fueling station was built by an interested group, the public could be encouraged and TAWC would consider buying new CNG vehicles “down the road.”

National Fuel Gas representative John Gordon asked about TAWC’s annual mileage. TAWC director John Aldrich said the Gillig buses collectively travel around 250,000 miles, the smaller buses collectively about 200,000 miles and the car and van transports used for medical needs around 100,000 miles.

Bob Reuther,of White Oak Power in Chautauqua County, N.Y., spoke about alternative fuel options. He noted that there is a company that will build a fast re-fueling station at no cost to anyone if they can be guaranteed 2,000 gallons a day in 12 to 18 months.

Slow re-fueling units for household use are available for around $5,000, but they take hours to fill a tank. A fast re-fueling station compares to re-fueling with gasoline, in terms of time, he said.

Reuther said that CNG filling stations could cost up to $5 million to build, and could require changes in building codes and local ordinances. He also indicated that some propane companies provide free refueling facilities just to sell their product.

The mileage for propane is slightly less than gasoline, with a factor of one gallon of gas equal to 1.1 of propane while CNG is one-to-one. Currently, CNG costs about two dollars a gallon, a 39 percent savings over $3.50 per gallon for gas.

On the downside, conversion costs are considerable. He said that converting a pick-up truck costs between $12,000 to $15,000 for a CNG conversion, or $8,000 to $12,000 for liquid propane.

Pennsylvania has ACT 13 grants available for both public entities and private citizens, up to $25,000 with matching funds required, he noted. Gordon added that there are Alternative and Clean Energy (ACE) grants for refueling stations.

The grants up to now were for heavy vehicles, but starting in September they will be available, on a limited basis, for vehicles under 14,000 pounds gross weight.

State Rep. Kathy Rapp, who attended Thursday’s meeting, noted that Crossett received one of the earlier grants, but returned it to re-assess its needs.

As to the vehicles themselves, Reuther said, “You can convert diesel to CNG, but not to propane. You can use CNG in a dual fuel situation, running diesel and CNG at the same time.”

Asked about trading in a vehicle, Dave Hill, natural gas engine director for Penn Power Group in Cranberry Township, said, “Already, used alternative vehicles are hard to keep in stock.” He added that used police vehicles powered by propane are highly sought after.

“Everybody is going this way in the future,” he added.

Hill noted that approximately 60 percent of garbage trucks are already using alternative fuels.

Reuther said that new duel fuel vehicles are on the market, and on one compact car the alternative fuel option was $4,000, considerably less than conversions.

Reuther said that the key to bringing alternative fuels to the area will be the school district, something that should be attractive to bus companies.