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Chambersburg discovers it's not easy being green

Running vehicle fleet on CNG would be environmentally friendly, but expensive

Running vehicle fleet on CNG would be environmentally friendly, but expensive

February 26, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Kermit the Frog once sang that "It's Not Easy Being Green" and when it comes to making municipal services greener, the inconvenient truth is it is not cheap, either.

Running its vehicle fleet on compressed natural gas (CNG) would reduce the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide emissions 20 percent compared to gasoline or diesel and soot by 90 percent, Gas Department Superintendent John Leary told the Chambersburg Borough Council Monday. It is also about a third the cost, the natural gas equivalent to a gallon of gasoline costing just 79 cents, he said.

Those positives have to be balanced against the high up-front costs of building a fueling station and buying natural gas-powered vehicles, Leary told the council.

The first year costs for converting to CNG would be about $618,000, including about $500,000 for the fueling station, Leary said. After that, there would be an additional cost of $100,000 a year as the borough bought more CNG vehicles.

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Almost no vehicles come factory-ready to run on natural gas, so police cars, garbage trucks and other vehicles would have to be purchased and then converted at a cost of $5,000 to $40,000 per vehicle, according to Leary's figures.

The payback on the investment would take 25 years, Leary said. If the borough applied for and received a $286,000 Pennsylvania Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant, the payback period is reduced to about 17 years, he said.

"We have to balance what feels good" against taxpayers' money, Council President Bill McLaughlin said. "A 17-to-25-year payback is no payback."

Leary said compressed natural gas or the more expensive liquefied natural gas makes more sense in cities with large fleets of vehicles that rack up many miles, such as buses, garbage trucks and police cars. The borough has more than 100 vehicles, but the number considered for conversion is less than 70, he said.

The council decided to proceed no further until it can be shown that conversion makes economic sense.

How about hybrids?

Public Works Director Bob Wagner said there is a hybrid Chevrolet Tahoe sport utility vehicle suitable for use by the police department as a command post vehicle. However, the sticker price is $21,000 more than the gasoline-powered version and over the expected four-year life of the vehicle fuel savings would be about $2,000, he said.

How about an electric car?

As the 2008 budget was being put together, the council instructed the administration to look into buying an electric car for one of its departments, strictly for use within the borough.

Pennsylvania, however, does not license four-wheel electric vehicles, Council Vice President Robert Wareham said. It does license three-wheel vehicles - as motorcycles, he said.

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