Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

City investigating feasibility of transit buses fueled by compressed natural gas

August 21, 2013


The gas debate is back at Lawrence City Hall.

City officials have decided to hold off on purchasing three new diesel and diesel/electric hybrid buses until staff members do another round of research on the feasibility of buses that are powered by compressed natural gas.

"This seems like the sort of thing that if we don't at least consider making the switch, we may look back 20 years from now and regret it," said City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer.

City transit leaders, however, thought they already had crossed this bridge, conducting a feasibility analysis of compressed natural gas versus diesel buses and diesel/electric hybrid buses four years ago. But in the meantime, natural gas prices have plummeted as new domestic supplies have been discovered using fracking technology.

"I think the numbers probably have changed quite a bit since we last looked at it," said Mayor Mike Dever.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency reports that the average price of diesel fuel nationally is about $3.90 per gallon. Several national media reports peg the average price of compressed natural gas at about $2.10 per gasoline-gallon-equivalent, although that price has dropped to about $1 per gallon-equivalent in some gas-rich portions of the country.

"It would be a major change in how we do business," Dever said. "But would the savings be worth it? They might be, but we have to study a lot of factors."

The cost to install a quick-fueling compressed natural gas station is chief among them, city leaders said. The city has had access to the fueling station at the Black Hills Energy maintenance shop in East Lawrence, but it is a slow-fueling system that would require a bus to be connected for several hours to fill.

The city has received a federal grant to install a compressed natural gas fueling station at its maintenance garage near 11th and Haskell, which the city will use to test a new CNG-powered trash truck and a more traditional pickup truck.

That new station also will be slow-fueling, in large part because a quick-fill station could cost as much as $2 million to construct, Dever estimated.

Figuring out where to put a facility also may be tricky, Dever said. He said the city would also want to be able to use CNG to power vehicles other than transit buses, such as the city's fleet of trash trucks. Currently, the city's bus fleet is based in northern Lawrence in the Santa Fe Industrial Park near the West Lawrence Kansas Turnpike interchange. The city's trash trucks and other public works vehicles are based in East Lawrence near 11th and Haskell. A fueling station to accommodate both fleets likely would require significant changes in operations for both divisions.

There may be an even tougher puzzle for city officials to solve, though: What's the likelihood that natural gas prices are going to remain significantly less than oil prices in the future?

"Is the fracking industry a sustainable one? Because that is really what this is all built on at the moment," Dever said.

The idea of cheaply fueling transit buses is catching the attention of some members of the public. Lawrence resident Graham Kreicker recently urged commissioners to delay the purchase of diesel buses until the CNG options had been further explored. He also told commissioners that several communities across the country are getting assistance from natural gas companies to install quick-fill fueling stations, in exchange for signing long-term natural gas contracts.

"There are communities that have gotten over the hurdles you are concerned about," Kreicker told commissioners. "We should be looking toward having a natural gas fleet, and we should encourage the school district to do the same."

There also has been interest from the private sector to build a quick-fill natural gas station in the city. Scott Zaremba, an owner of the Zarco 66 chain, has filed plans to add natural gas fueling stations to his property near Ninth and Iowa streets. But those plans haven't moved forward. He previously has said he needs a large customer, such as the city, the school district or Kansas University, to commit to using the fuel source.

Kreicker, after meeting with commissioners, said he doesn't work for the natural gas industry or have any other sort of professional interest in the subject. But he said he does have a personal motivation for bringing up the issue.

"I want to buy a gas-powered Honda Civic, and I want some place to fill it up," he said.

City staff members are expected to deliver a report to commissioners in the next several weeks.


blindrabbit 4 years, 10 months ago

No need to debate the feasibility of LNG powered buses. Just spent a week in Los Angeles, every city operated bus there is LNG powered. Biggest concern is the growing "glamour" of LNG for everything from autos, buses, power plants, etc. The demand will obviously create more competition for this resource, and the price will undoubtedly rise. Will it (LNG) be all that cost competitive after all this shakes out?

uncleandyt 4 years, 10 months ago

Josh Fox documenting the dangers of fracking doesn't make it into our newspapers. Too much of our "news" is masquerade Marketing. Pollution from fracking negates claims of gas-burning cleanliness. Watch the movie Gasland, and Gasland 2.

BringBackMark 4 years, 10 months ago

In this town there always has to be some extravagant solution to everything. Here's a much better way to save energy than spending what I'm sure will be hundreds of thousands if not more:

Fire the traffic engineer responsible for traffic signal timing. Apparently this individual does not understand that having 20 cars (or more) sitting for 15 to 20 seconds, while absolutely nobody passes through the intersection, wastes fuel. This is a routine occurrence all over this town. I think if the City did a study of wasted fuel for this reason it would be a staggering amount. Not to mention the man-hours wasted sitting needlessly at intersections.

onceajhawkalwaysajhawk 4 years, 10 months ago

A great choice! Clean,abundant and USA product! Fracking is the current technology and not as harmful as some say. There are other methods that will be used as the demand grow and the method becomes less expensive.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 4 years, 10 months ago

Pure inanity meets pure insanity in the killing fields of fracking ignorance.

chootspa 4 years, 10 months ago

"Is the fracking industry a sustainable one?"


Richard Heckler 4 years, 10 months ago

No fossil fuel source will remain "affordable" for very long have we not learned that yet?

Fossil fuels are major contributors to Climate Change have we not learned that yet?

Koch money is behind most every misinformation campaign.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 4 years, 10 months ago

Fracking is only brilliant in its burning of lives and lands. This pretty fire will cost us all in our desire.

Cheap is never cheap, these days. It is, in all ways, a ruse.

shusa2014 4 years, 10 months ago

At a national tucking forum in Dallas last week, the diesel vs. natural gas issue was widely discussed. A good summary of what many fleet owners said is the case study described by Werner Enterprises.

They looked at natural gas-powered trucks, but the numbers were profitable. Natural gas vehicles are more expensive to buy, 15 percent less fuel efficient, 5 percent more expensive to maintain and will have a residual value that’s 50 percent less than comparable diesel-powered trucks.

So if you go with natural gas you have to pay more up front, you get worse fuel efficiency, and you end up with a vehicls that's not worth much in a couple of years.

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