LITTLE VALLEY – Municipalities are feeling the pain at the pump, just like millions of Americans every time they fill up their tanks, especially when it comes to fueling transit buses and dump trucks.
Cattaraugus County legislators on the Public Works Committee heard Wednesday night some reasons why they should look into a change in fuel that could save them money.
Public works departments in other areas have switched to using buses and trucks that run on compressed natural gas, which is cheaper and burns a little cleaner than traditional gasoline and diesel, said Larry Simpson, president of Blue Springs Energy Consultants of Webster.
“Unlike gasoline and diesel, compressed natural gas has been coming down in price since 2008,” Simpson said.
While gas is at or around $4 a gallon, and diesel hovers as high as $4.25 in the region, compressed natural gas (CNG) can cost as low as $1.50 per gallon for these vehicles, if a municipality has it own fueling system, he said.
There would be some upfront costs to make the switch, Simpson said.
Fuel systems in CNG vehicles operate at a higher pressure, since the gas is compressed. Fuel tanks have to be able to withstand pressures as high as 3,600 pounds per square inch, according to Simpson.
“You would be looking at the same engines for these vehicles. The only difference is in the fuel system itself,” he said. “The stronger tanks and better delivery are important.”
Purchasing a vehicle with a CNG fuel system is more expensive too, Simpson acknowledged. “For a pickup truck, you would be looking at an additional cost of $8,000 to $12,000,” he said.
There are cost differences in a facility owned by a municipality, like the county Department of Public Works, and private fueling stations, Simpson said.
“The biggest problem with CNG, now is the number of fueling stations,” he said. “The closest to you, here in Cattaraugus County, are in Chautauqua County, in the Mayville and Sinclairville areas. Stations are not generally open to the public, but more and more are coming online to be so. If you are relying on another station to fuel, you could be looking at prices between $1.90 and $2.50 per gallon.”
In areas that have fleets of transit buses fueled with CNG, the majority own their stations and use a slow-fill method, Simpson told the members of the committee. That method has the vehicle coupled to the fueling source and left there overnight. That system is a bit cheaper than a fast-fill, Simpson said.
“With a fast-fill, you have more in the way of switches, card readers and all the things you see at a gas pump,” he said. “Slow-fills are right from the compressors, so they are filled and then shut off.”
Legislators in attendance were given the option to have a study conducted that would determine the amount of savings a CNG-fueled fleet would give them, if any. No action was taken on the idea.