Natural gas eyed for fleets
MURDOCK — It burns cleaner, there seems to be plenty of it, and it costs a lot less than gasoline. So it would be only “natural” for Punta Gorda and Charlotte County to consider converting their vehicles to run on compressed natural gas, area economic booster Brian Presley told both local governments in a pitch Friday.
Several members of the City Council and the County Commission expressed support, at least for exploring the option, during their joint quarterly meeting held in the county’s commission chambers.
Presley, a member of the county’s Economic Development Council, pointed out the line item for fuel is a big one in local government budgets. Natural gas poses a “massive cost advantage,” he said.
The downside: The vehicles would require conversion kits and special filling stations and, to date, there are none in the county.
“The hurdle is distribution,” Presley said. “However TECO has already brought the pipeline down here.”
TECO owns a natural gas line that runs along U.S. 41 in Port Charlotte with an undeveloped “stub-out” to the Punta Gorda Airport, Presley said.
The Charlotte County School Board is working toward converting its buses to natural gas, and the Charlotte County Airport Authority is interested in playing a role to make it available, Presley said.
The Polk County government is among several agencies in Florida that already have converted. Typically, they save 30 percent to 40 percent on the cost of fuel, according to Presley.
If the city, county, School Board and some commercial businesses switched to natural gas, the pipeline company would make it a priority to establish a few filling-station sites, he speculated.
He suggested that the city and county, when they retire worn-out vehicles, should purchase new ones already equipped to run on natural gas.
However some extended-life vehicles like firetrucks could be converted for about $2,000, he said.
County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch warned that the filling technology for the gas range from a “slow fill” to a “quick fill.”
The slow-fill system takes overnight to compress enough gas to fill up a truck. That could pose “a security issue,” Deutsch said. However school buses could be “plugged in” at the end of the day and be full by the next morning, he added.
“We’re looking at saving big bucks for all of us, and it is the way of the future,” he said.
Commissioner Tricia Duffy said the School Board was working on a deal calling for the gas company to pay for the district’s vehicle conversion.
“The School Board is way ahead of us,” she said. “I think we need to get more information and look into it.”
City Councilwoman Kim Devine suggested the county administrator and city manager meet with school staffers to get up to speed.
Natural gas reserves were formed beneath layers of rock by the decomposition of vegetation over millions of years. They contain mostly methane. Production has increased in recent years in the U.S. due to advances in extracting the gas through “fracking.”
The Potential Gas Committee in 2011 estimated the U.S.’s future supply of natural gas to be 2 trillion cubic feet, including speculative and proven resources.