Two years after building a compressed natural gas filling station at the Sheriff’s Department complex, Hamilton County has 23 vehicles capable of burning the clean, green fuel. Another 12 are expected to be added to the fleet in 2016.
Building and Grounds Director Steve Wood updated county leaders on the program last month, concluding that it makes sense to continue using CNG as an environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline on some vehicles.
It’s also less expensive. Since January 2015, the county has paid an average of $1.91 per gallon of regular gas for its 159 vehicles. During the same period, it paid an average of $1.10 per gallon of CNG.
Better yet: The per-gallon price will drop to less than 39 cents in December under the terms of a two-year bulk purchasing agreement with Constellation Energy Group.
Despite the savings at the pump, Wood and consultants from Johnson Melloh Solutions Inc. said natural gas isn’t the right choice for every vehicle in the fleet. Given the $11,000 average cost per conversion, long-lasting truck and SUVs are more likely to generate a return on the investment than frequently traded patrol cars.
With a $1.40 to $1.50 price difference between CNG and regular gas, the savings offset the conversion cost after 117,000 to 125,000 miles. And that’s assuming regular gas prices stay below $2 a gallon. If not, the payoff will come sooner. (Lest we forget: Gas was nearing $3.75 a gallon in 2014, when the project was approved.)
The county spent $1.4 million to install the quick-fill CNG station and allocated a total of $233,950 for vehicle conversions. About a dozen county departments are using the converted vehicles.