Municipalities eye propane as potential alternative fuel
by Mark Andrews
May 25, 2013 | 2879 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County Schools Superintendent John Harper and Transportation Director Jody Elrod said they have discussed looking into alternative energy sources, such as propane, to power local school buses. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
Bartow County Schools Superintendent John Harper and Transportation Director Jody Elrod said they have discussed looking into alternative energy sources, such as propane, to power local school buses. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
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On Thursday, various city of Cartersville and Bartow County municipalities gathered at Commissioner Steve Taylor’s chambers to hear a presentation from ROUSH CleanTech and Alliance AutoGas representatives on the advantages of using propane gas to power forms of taxpayer-funded transportation, ranging from law enforcement vehicles to school buses.

“The reason we called everybody here today was to educate ourselves on propane and alternative fuels, gasoline and diesel, and it looks like the future is in propane and natural gas. Infrastructure cost is much, much less with propane and natural gas … and it looks to me like there could be some tremendous savings using propane instead of gasoline,” Taylor said.

Derek Whaley of Alliance AutoGas reported during the presentation there are more than 200,000 propane-powered vehicles in the U.S. and more than a dozen counties in Georgia using propane-powered vehicles for law enforcement and school transportation, touting a savings in fuel costs of approximately 40 percent a few years after initial infrastructure investment and development. Due to the general nature of the presentation, an estimate for the cost of initial investment for Bartow County is not available.

Taylor said while the presentation better informed municipal leaders of the potential lower cost of propane as a fuel source, the county would not “jump in” to such an endeavor without further evaluation of initial cost.

“It’s a program that you phase in and as you buy new vehicles you [would] begin buying propane-powered vehicles and it’s coming,” he said. “It looks like the future is going to be in natural gas and propane, especially for municipalities, and hopefully there’s some grants available to help us along with this program as we go along.”

For Bartow County Schools, who recently reported expecting a $6 million shortfall in their Fiscal Year 2014 budget, both Transportation Director Jody Elrod and Superintendent John Harper said they have considered alternative fuel sources in the future in an effort to cut costs and reduce emissions.

“With the way diesel fuel prices work, it’s hard for us to budget for them because we’ve went in the last two years from the low [$2 range] to the high [$3 range] so it’s almost doubled,” Elrod said. “… One of the biggest issues we have with new school buses is the emissions equipment that’s on them — they keep adding to the engines and adding to the engines and we’re having more issues with those. With propane buses you don’t have emissions — you don’t have to put all that equipment on there to make it burn clean, the propane itself takes care of that.”

Chelsea Jenkins of ROUSH CleanTech said Hall County Schools, for example, have added propane-powered buses to their school transportation department. Elrod said he has been in communication with the school district on the results of their transition to propane gas-powered vehicles.

“This is the second year [Hall County] has purchased those buses and their folks are really pleased with them,” Elrod said.

Harper said a downside to transitioning to propane-powered buses is the question of sustainability of alternative fuels as well as determining market price, similarly echoing Elrod’s statements about budgeting for diesel fuel prices.

“We’ve been looking for a way to try to convert [engines to propane], you have to get a whole new engine, but certainly I thought we had a great presentation … and we’ve been told there’s an infinite amount of fossil fuel out there …, but the question I have, is there that much abundance of propane?” Harper said. “We talk about supply and demand with prices, I don’t believe that’s true with the gasoline market, I believe it’s controlled somewhere …

“What’s going to happen in this market if more people get on board with propane, is that going to drive the price up and all that we’ve done to retrofit buses or buy a bus that is $10,000 more, is the price going to creep up? Those are unknown questions, but I certainly like the fact that the fuel is environmentally friendly and at this current time, the price is significantly cheaper and it’s an option we’ll look at as a school system.”