LOCKPORT – A report on whether it would be economically feasible to convert some of Niagara County’s vehicle fleet to alternative fuels was issued last week, and the answer is no.
Larry Simpson of Blue Springs Energy, a Monroe County company that did the analysis, said that although the fuels cost less than gasoline and diesel, the vehicles that would use them are more expensive than conventional models, and the payback period for the fuel savings to cover the increased upfront cost is far too long to make the conversion worthwhile.
Simpson was given a list of every vehicle the county owns and its gas mileage, age, fuel expense and replacement cost. He said that it would cost $7.9 million if the county had to replace its entire fleet all at once.
A changeover to vehicles that run on compressed natural gas would cost $10.9 million. Hybrid vehicles would cost $10.2 million, and electric vehicles would cost $16 million.
From a practical perspective, there are no hybrid or electric counterparts to such vehicles as snowplows and pavement rollers. Public Works Commissioner Kevin P. O’Brien said alternative fuels don’t produce enough energy to plow snow effectively.
Another practical point, Simpson said, is that there is no place in the county to buy compressed natural gas. If the county really wanted to make that change, it would have to build its own fueling stations, he said. That would cost $2.2 million, and electric charging stations would cost almost $1.8 million.
The break-even period would be six years for converting sedans to compressed natural gas. That’s the best classification, Simpson said. Changing the pickup trucks to hybrids would be the worst option, with a break-even point of 65 years.
The county did buy four Ford Fusion hybrid sedans this spring for just under $100,000, but the money came from the New York Power Authority.
“People like them. The jury’s still out on what we actually save,” County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said.
The county’s current annual cost for gasoline and diesel fuel is $512,000.
The hypothetical changeover to all compressed natural gas vehicles would lower the fuel bill to $163,000, Simpson said. Running hybrids would cost $416,000 a year, while electric vehicles would cost $149,000 in utility bills.
Simpson said that half the new garbage trucks in the country run on compressed natural gas, as do many buses, including Metro Buses locally.