By SCOTT AUST, FCEDC Director of Communications
Representatives from area municipalities, utilities and the alternative fuels industry attended a free workshop Wednesday in Garden City to learn more about the benefits and challenges of natural gas.
The workshop provided an overview of Garden City’s adoption of clean fuels and natural gas vehicles and infrastructure, and provided a forum for businesses and municipalities to talk about how to incorporate alternative fuels into their fleets.
Generally, the benefits for local governments like Garden City was in saving fuel costs both at a lower price than diesel and more stable price, and improving air quality by reducing the city’s carbon footprint.
In 2015, with diesel prices hovering around $4 per gallon, the Garden City Commission directed staff to look for alternatives. After research, the city developed a partnership with Sparq Natural Gas and Black Hills Energy to place a CNG (compressed natural gas) fueling station at the U Pump It station, 156 N. Campus Drive.
The station opened in 2016 offering a stable price of $1.99 per equivalent gallon. Since 2015, the City of Garden City has added three CNG trash trucks to its 13 truck fleet and also has a dual-fuel pickup in its fleet. The city plans to continue changing out its fleet in coming years.
Sam Curran, Garden City Public Works director, said in 2015 the city projected a $10,000 to $15,000 annual savings in fuel by switching to CNG. But, after diesel fuel prices dropped from the $4 per gallon range to just under $3 per gallon, the city’s actual fuel savings have been around $2,500 per year. Currently, diesel prices are around $2.60 per gallon while CNG is at $1.77 per “gallon.”
The city is pursuing a grant through the Clean Cities Coalition that it will use to purchase an additional truck sometime within the next year, and plans to purchase two more CNG trash trucks sometime in 2020.
“The city commission has made a move to CNG,” Curran said. “We are in that process and I believe we will see a benefit as we move forward.”
Curran estimated each truck will last about 10 to 12 years though the city hopes to push their longevity to 13 to 14 years before trade in. He added that the hope is as the technology improves and more conversions to CNG happen, there will be more of a market for trade ins.
Curran emphasized to those considering changing their fleets to CNG the importance of creating the type of partnerships the city did with Sparq, Black Hills Energy and others in the alternative fuels industry.
Norman Herrera, Chief Executive Officer of Sparq Natural Gas, which builds, owns and operates CNG stations in four states today, said 32 states have natural gas production and an abundance of supply exists in the country. This allows prices at the pump for CNG to remain steady.
Herrera said the CNG “price on the sign” in Garden City has only changed twice in the last two-and-a-half years, compared to diesel or gasoline prices which tend to swing up and down frequently due to the volatile nature of oil prices.
“We’ve really maintained a consistent price that the customer can rely on for a longer period of time,” he said.
In addition to stable price and supply, Herrera said another benefit of natural gas is the lessened impact on the environment. He provided a statistic indicating that replacing one diesel truck with a CNG truck has the same impact on reducing emissions as removing 119 traditional combustion engines off the road.
Herrera indicated the trend is positive for natural gas infrastructure and vehicles, noting that currently there are 2,000 natural gas fueling stations across the country, a number that has doubled in the last five years. Currently, 10 to 12 new CNG stations are brought online each month.
Tim Hess, CNG/LNG project manager with Black Hills Energy, said natural gas vehicles meet the strictest emission standards and are as safe or safer as traditional gas and diesel vehicles. The challenges for the industry include getting more stations in service and vehicles on the road, as well as educating and providing more information to the public about the benefits of natural gas vehicles and industry. More financial incentives are needed to spur acceptance which it is hoped will help bring down the high entry cost for fleet conversions and building more CNG fueling infrastructure.
“From a utility standpoint, certainly it benefits Black Hills Energy that’s serving CNG stations. As a result of that, we do have an incentive program that’s on a case by case basis right now,” Hess said. “We know as a fleet operator, you start looking at some of the costs … it’s certainly a challenge to get there. From a Black Hills perspective, we feel if we can put some skin in the game, because we are benefitting from your fuel use. That’s our thinking behind it.”
Hess said when Black Hills does agree to an incentive, it is based on the amount of fuel being displaced and a model the company developed based on rate paying the station for meter service.
The benefits of natural gas, according to Hess, include a cleaner burning fuel that requires less refining and is safer while providing the same mileage and performance as traditional fuels. In addition, natural gas prices are stable, projected to stay around the $2 per gallon equivalent range for the foreseeable future.
“We have at least a 90 year supply, based on our use today. And I would bet the reality is even greater than that,” Hess said. “With what’s happening in the northern part of the country, North Dakota and that area, there’s just a tremendous amount of gas available. The U.S. is the number 1 natural gas producer in the world.”
Wednesday’s workshop was sponsored by Sparq Natural Gas, Black Hills Energy, The City of Garden City, and Kansas City Regional and the Metropolitan Energy Center’s Central Kansas Clean Cities Coalitions. For more information visit www.metroenergy.org.