City of Lawrence officials are beginning a worthwhile experiment.
The city recently added its first natural gas-powered vehicle to its fleet of nearly 500 vehicles. The Ford F150 pickup truck that was converted to run on either compressed natural gas or unleaded gasoline is a modest experiment in whether the city can feasibly convert more of its vehicles to the less-expensive fuel.
It is a good first step. The city has little to lose by exploring the option of compressed natural gas vehicles. Black Hills Energy, the city’s largest natural gas utility, and Missouri-based Fuel Conversion Solutions donated the conversion kit for the truck. Black Hills also is allowing the city to use its compressed natural gas fueling station near the city’s shop facilities in east Lawrence.
And, currently, the city doesn’t have anything to lose when it comes to fuel prices. At today’s prices, it takes about $1.50 worth of compressed natural gas to equal one gallon of unleaded gasoline. With such a price difference, the city has much to gain if this experiment proves feasible.
The city hopes to find out more about fuel mileage, maintenance issues and other such topics as it puts the new truck through its paces. After that, the city can have a broader discussion about whether it wants to make the significant investment to convert more of its fleet to natural gas.
Building a fueling station that could accommodate a fleet of vehicles will be an important consideration. Already a private convenience store chain — the local Zarco chain — has plans for a compressed natural gas fueling station near Ninth and Iowa.
Zarco officials hope the city’s interest in this project will spur interest from other large fleet operators. With that in mind, the city should make special efforts to share its data with other entities like Douglas County, Kansas University, and the company that operates the buses for Lawrence public schools.
It is unlikely any entity will be able to absorb the large cost of converting all their vehicles at once, but perhaps several entities could begin to phase in a conversion of their fleets.
Of course, it first must be proven that compressed natural gas will work in the real world here in Lawrence. Thanks to the city, we can start to answer that question.