Fu­el­ing the fu­ture

Nat­u­ral gas sta­tion com­ing

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

Cov­ing­ton will have a com­pressed nat­u­ral gas fu­el­ing sta­tion in 2014 and is on the cut­ting edge of the tech­nol­ogy, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials who work around the state.

The Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously Mon­day night to ap­prove pay­ing $1.6 mil­lion to At­lanta-based Amer­i­can Fu­el­ing Sys­tems to build the fu­el­ing sta­tion, which city of­fi­cials hope will both save the city on fuel over the long haul and pro­vide an­other source of rev­enue. The sta­tion will be built on City Pond Road, 400 feet west of the in­ter­sec­tion with Al­covy Road.

The pro­ject’s fi­nanc­ing and de­sign are still in fi­nal stages, but Cov­ing­ton grant writer Randy Con­ner said he hopes for a fall ground­break­ing and to have the fa­cil­ity com­pleted be­fore

April 2014.

“Cov­ing­ton is out on the cut­ting edge with a half-dozen other cities we deal with,” said Scott Tolle­son with the Mu­nic­i­pal Gas Au­thor­ity of Ge­or­gia, a non­profit con­sor­tium of cities that sell nat­u­ral gas. Tolle­son said the gas au­thor­ity has a plan to place sta­tions along the state’s ma­jor cor­ri­dors, and Cov­ing­ton’s lo­ca­tion along I-20 makes the city a strate­gic point. The sta­tion will be open to the pub­lic.

The au­thor­ity will pro­vide a low-in­ter­est loan for the pro­ject, cov­er­ing con­struc­tion costs and charg­ing 1 per­cent to 1.5 per­cent in­ter­est over the course of five years; in ad­di­tion, 5 cents per gal­lon equiv­a­lent of nat­u­ral gas will also be paid to the au­thor­ity to help pay off the loan, ac­cord­ing to Con­ner.

The fa­cil­ity will have four com­pressed nat­u­ral gas (CNG) pumps and will be de­signed to eas­ily ac­com­mo­date large ve­hi­cles like trac­tor trail­ers and school buses. Larger ve­hi­cles are pop­u­lar choices to run on CNG be­cause they are both more eas­ily able to house CNG stor­age and see a quicker re­turn on in­vest­ment.

Cov­ing­ton is the first city to se­cure fi­nanc­ing from the mu­nic­i­pal gas au­thor­ity, which had set aside $5 mil­lion to pro­mote CNG sta­tions, Tolle­son said. By us­ing the low-in­ter­est loan, Cov­ing­ton will be able to de­vote more money in the 2013-2104 bud­get year to pur­chas­ing CNG-pow­ered ve­hi­cles, thus al­low­ing the city to see a quicker re­turn for its in­vest­ment.

Con­ner said in April 2013 the com­mer­cial costs for a gal­lon of gaso­line equiv­a­lent of CNG he had seen were be­tween $1.95 and $2.25; how­ever, Snap­ping Shoals EMC, an area elec­tric­ity com­pany, paid around $1.64 per gal­lon equiv­a­lent. A city that has its own fu­el­ing fa­cil­ity is able to fuel its ve­hi­cles even more cheaply be­cause it’s a whole­sale seller of nat­u­ral gas.

Con­ner said Wed­nes­day the city will have 20 CNG-fu­eled ve­hi­cles by the end of the bud­get year, in­clud­ing 17 po­lice ve­hi­cles – likely Chevy Ta­hoes – a garbage truck, at least one ve­hi­cle for the city’s gas depart­ment and an al­ready-pur­chased elec­tric depart­ment truck.

The city also will look at pos­si­bly con­vert­ing some ve­hi­cles to run on CNG, Con­ner said. Con­ver­sion costs con­tinue to fall as the tech­nol­ogy be­comes more com­mon, Tolle­son said, not­ing a stan­dard pickup truck or SUV costs $6,000-$9,000 to con­vert. He said a year ago, costs were more likely to be $9,000-$12,000.

Tolle­son said CNG-pow­ered pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles aren’t yet com­mon be­cause the tanks take up too much stor­age. He said com­pa­nies are likely try­ing to find ways to place stor­age com­part­ments in hid­den places in cars, but he as­sumes the tech­nol­ogy won’t be avail­able for a few years.

Con­ner said the city would look to pur­chase an­other block of po­lice cruis­ers and garbage trucks next bud­get year.

“It would be a mis­take to re­place too many ve­hi­cles at one time, since they would all need to be phased out of the fleet at the same time in a few years,” Con­ner said. “We are cur­rently work­ing on a re­place­ment sched­ule to en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion of the fleet to CNG over sev­eral years.”

The city con­sid­ered also plac­ing gaso­line pumps on the site since the po­lice cars will be hy­brid ve­hi­cles, but de­ter­mined the con­ve­nience wasn’t worth the ex­tra cost, per­mit­ting and time.

“Af­ter re­view, we see that the cars will use less than a gal­lon of gas per day, which means fu­el­ing with gaso­line once or twice per month,” Con­ner said. “Adding gaso­line would also elim­i­nate be­ing able to mar­ket the site as an Al­ter­na­tive Fu­el­ing Fa­cil­ity.”

The city will also con­sider build­ing an add-on to its ve­hi­cle-main­te­nance bay, be­cause CNG ve­hi­cles re­quire dif­fer­ent con­di­tions while be­ing worked on, but Con­ner said any ma­jor ser­vice will be han­dled at deal­er­ships since the ve­hi­cles will be new. No new em­ploy­ees are ex­pected to be hired in this bud­get year, as sta­tion man­age­ment will be con­tracted out, Con­ner said.

While Cov­ing­ton hopes to save money, open­ing the sta­tion to the pub­lic was just as big a pri­or­ity.

“Once the gen­eral pub­lic learns the ben­e­fits and as the cost of con­ver­sion con­tin­ues to de­cline, we are cer­tain our pub­lic us­age will be ex­ten­sive,” Con­ner said. “We heard com­ments last year from Snap­ping Shoals me­chan­ics who ser­vice their CNG fleet that they would con­vert to CNG as soon as the fa­cil­ity opened.”

Coun­cil­man Chris Smith, one of the pro­ject’s big­gest pro­po­nents, said Mon­day he felt the sta­tion would pro­vide an eco­nomic boost for the city.

Hunter Hall, pres­i­dent of the Cov­ing­ton-New­ton County Cham­ber of Com­merce, told the coun­cil Mon­day dur­ing his quar­terly up­date he be­lieved the CNG sta­tion would be a ben­e­fit in in­dus­trial re­cruit­ment.

“Ku­dos to the city of Cov­ing­ton for you guys push­ing for­ward on that. That’s very pro­gres­sive and speaks vol­umes to com­pa­nies that are look­ing for re­lo­ca­tions and just talks about the cul­ture of a com­mu­nity,” Hall said.

In­dus­trial re­cruit­ment could even oc­cur right next to the sta­tion, which sits on part of a 27-acre site that was pur­chased by the city for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in ad­di­tion to 90 acres north of the site ex­tend­ing to the air­port that could also ac­com­mo­date in­dus­try, Con­ner said.

Plans call for plac­ing a sep­a­rate boule­vard off City Pond Road and Al­covy Road to pro­vide a sep­a­rate en­trance to the area.

“As we con­tinue to seek new cor­po­rate cit­i­zens for our com­mu­nity, we have to con­sider what those cor­po­ra­tions and busi­nesses may de­sire,” Con­ner said.

“You will see as we be­gin de­vel­op­ment, this will be an ex­tremely at­trac­tive site and by plac­ing the fa­cil­ity a few hun­dred feet up City Pond Road we could pro­vide a con­ve­nient fu­el­ing fa­cil­ity for the city and I-20 traf­fic and main­tain the orig­i­nal pur­pose of ac­quir­ing the prop­erty.”

Tolle­son said he be­lieves the CNG mar­ket is about to take off.

“I think this is the first step in many sta­tions to come (around the state and coun­try) and be­lieve the price of nat­u­ral gas is at a point where it will be sta­ble for many years,” he said. “We be­lieve trans­porta­tion fuel is the next big op­por­tu­nity for nat­u­ral gas and is a good Amer­i­can story for Amer­i­can fuel, as we try to dis­place some of the for­eign fuel used. That’s what re­ally ex­cited us the most.”

Sub­mit­ted photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

An artists ren­der­ing shows Cov­ing­ton’s fu­ture $1.6 mil­li­ion nat­u­ral gas fu­el­ing sta­tion, to be built on City Pond Road, just 400 feet west of the in­ter­sec­tion with Al­covy Road.

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