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City moves on plan for cleaner fuel
2 garbage trucks using compressed natural gas will roll out this month
The City of Statesbsoro's two garbage trucks that run on compressed natural gas are scheduled to begin trash collection this month. - photo by PHIL BOYUM/special

Statesboro’s Public Works Department intends to roll out a pair of vehicles this month that will be the first in a plan to save big dollars for the city.

One year ago, City Council, with the recommendation of department leaders, purchased from First Transit Inc. a compressed natural gas, or CNG, fueling station located on U.S. Highway 301 South. The station had been the natural gas provider for buses operated by Georgia Southern University.

With the station relocated to the public works facility on Braswell Street, the city agreed to purchase two trash collection trucks engineered to run on the clean-burning, affordable energy alternative.

The large blue trucks, adorned with the city of Statesboro insignia and advertisements for the new fuel, are currently undergoing final inspections and will hit city streets sometime in the next few weeks, said Jason Boyles, the senior assistant city engineer.

Because the cost of compressed natural gas — that will be paid to the city’s Natural Gas Department, which purchases the fuel wholesale — is much lower than that of diesel fuel, each truck is estimated to save the city approximately $18,000, in fuel costs alone, for every year it is on the road.

According to Steve Hotchkiss, the superintendent of the city’s Natural Gas Department, public works will be able to purchase compressed natural gas “at a cost of about $1.25 per gallon, compared to $4 per gallon for diesel.”

“That is a significant savings when one truck fill-up is 75 gallons,” he said.

Purchasing CNG-ready trucks cost the city $41,000 more than two diesel-burning trucks would have. It is an up-charge that the department believes will be more than made up for in fuel cost savings.

“When a truck is burning about 30 gallons of fuel every day, running eight to nine hours, it will not take but two or three years to get our investment back. Everything beyond that point is all savings,” Boyles said. “This system works.”

City leaders say a switch to natural gas, for certain vehicles, is a growing trend across the country.

“In 2013, about 60 percent of all garbage trucks shipped and manufactured in the United States were CNG,” Hotchkiss said. “People are doing it now because it is practical. It makes sense, and you get a return on investment in less than five years.”

The environmental aspects of the swap are also positive, he said.

“Emissions are much cleaner. Compared to diesel, you’re looking at a 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide, 75 percent reduction in carbon monoxide, 50-75 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide, 55 percent reduction in volatile compounds, and a 95 percent reduction in particulate matter with CNG,” Boyles said.

In layman’s terms, “95 percent less of the black crap you have blown in your face, when behind a normal truck,” said City Councilman Phil Boyum.

“We, as a city, are willing to be creative if we can be efficient with our tax dollars. With CNG, we are getting a reduced fuel cost, likely reduced maintenance costs, and something friendlier to the environment,” he added. “We have a situation here where we’ll be saving thousands over just a short amount of time. If you can save $10,000-plus a year, reduce maintenance costs and run a cleaner burning engine that leads to a better quality of life, then this is a no-brainer.”

Department officials say they will transition more of the city’s fleet — heavy vehicles like garbage trucks and street sweepers, and some medium-duty pickup trucks that accumulate high mileage — to CNG, as current vehicles drop out of service.

According to Darren Prather, the city’s purchasing director and safety coordinator, local leaders are also interested in the prospect of purchasing police cruisers that run on the cheaper fuel.

Ultimately, department heads hope to establish a public fueling station, somewhere in the city, that would serve individuals, area companies, or even long-haul drivers — with a station located at the Highway 301 and Interstate 16 interchange — according to Robert Cheshire, the city engineer.

“I’m very excited about (the project). Every year we have to bid fuel contracts and buy new vehicles. Since I’ve been on council, gas has tripled in price,” City Councilman Will Britt said. “I think we, as elected officials, have the opportunity and ability to try out some new technologies to see if it works, and can benefit the city. All of the research shows that this is something that will save us money in the long term. And it will expose our community to compressed natural gas. We are very excited about the opportunity to put the technology in place. I see, in the future, people in town purchasing vehicles that will operate on alternative fuels like this one.”

The infrastructure currently in place at the public works facility can support up to 12 trucks and smattering of smaller vehicles, according to Hotchkiss, and is expandable.

“The city will generate, if we run these trucks for six or seven years, enough money to completely break even — from buying the trucks and the station. And that’s with only the two trucks,” he said. “We can’t lose big on this thing.”

Citizens will have an opportunity to get an early look at the trucks — one of them, at least — during this month’s First Friday.

According to Boyles, a truck will be on display at the event; and a city employee will be available to discuss the new vehicle.

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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