Statesboro City Council has agreed to spend more than $100,000 on a plan that could potentially save the city millions in fuel costs.
Councilmen voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the purchase of a compressed natural gas fueling station, with the intent to gradually transition the city’s fleet of heavy-duty service trucks to run on the clean-burning, affordable energy alternative.
Council decided to acquire the station from First Transit — located on U.S. Highway 301 South — in an amount not to exceed $120,000.
The move was made after an independent consulting firm released a feasibility study that projected the city could save more than $1 million on fuel over a 10-year period using natural gas.
Steve Hotchkiss, the superintendent of the city’s Natural Gas Department, said the project could pay for itself within a few years.
“There is a lot of activity all over the country of people doing this. Some really promising advances in equipment have made heavy-duty trucks, like garbage trucks, a really good option for natural gas use,” Hotchkiss said. “We can save the city money; also, this is a good thing for the environment and our economy.”
Compressed natural gas, or CNG, currently retails for about $2.19 per gallon and would cost the city approximately $1.25 per gallon. The energy source has been 25 percent to 40 percent cheaper than diesel fuel for the past 15 years, and on average, costs 30 percent less than conventional gasoline at the pump, according to the feasibility study by Wise Gas Inc. The fuel burns cleaner, producing up to 29 percent fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline (23 percent fewer than diesel), and quieter than conventional petroleum, the report said.
According to Hotchkiss, the city is planning an initial purchase of two garbage trucks that can be fueled by CNG.
The city would take ownership of the station in late summer or early fall next year, about the same time the trucks arrive, he said.
As petroleum-powered vehicles already in the city fleet reach the end of their life cycle, they will be replaced with trucks compatible with CNG.
Hotchkiss said that at least 10 trucks — garbage trucks, street sweepers and leaf and limb refuse trucks — could be running on natural gas within a decade.
Purchase of the station and trucks is estimated to cost about $520,000. Projected savings over the first 10-year period total approximately $1.6 million.
“One garbage truck can burn as much as seven or eight times the amount of fuel as a pickup truck,” Hotchkiss said. “The beauty of this move is: you can convert only a few vehicles in a fleet, but save a lot of money.”
Lighter-duty trucks may eventually be converted, too. As pickup trucks compatible with CNG become more affordable, or cheaper to convert, they also will take advantage of the new fuel source, Hotchkiss said.
City staff has identified three pickups currently in the fleet that can, and will, be converted, he said.
Long-term plans for the station could include public use.
Hotchkiss said he is optimistic that the city could eventually provide CNG to other public fleets or private consumers as the fuel increases in popularity and availability.
“We would love to see the use of gas catch on, and for us to be able to, in a few years, put in a large public station — and encourage other fleets and personal customers to use compressed natural gas,” he said. “Hopefully, a few years from now, we will be talking about the city putting in a public access facility that would allow people to pull up and fuel a vehicle that runs on CNG.”
Once acquired, the current station will be moved from its current location on Highway 301 to the city’s public works facility on Braswell Street.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.