Lawrence city officials are taking another step in evaluating whether large fleets of city vehicles — like trash trucks and transit buses — ought to be fueled by compressed natural gas.
City leaders on Tuesday opened a new $100,000 compressed natural gas fueling station at the city's maintenance facility at 12th Street and Haskell Avenue. The station will be used by four compressed natural gas vehicles the city is using as part of a pilot project.
"We're looking to see how this fuel source can have an impact on our bottom line," Mayor Mike Dever said.
A grant from the Kansas City Regional Clean Cities program paid for about half of the fueling station. The grant also paid for the $50,000 in costs to upgrade a city trash truck to run on compressed natural gas.
The city began running its first compressed natural gas vehicle, a standard pickup truck, about two years ago. Steve Stewart, the city's fleet manager, said the CNG pickup truck thus far has been performing well.
"So far, it has been excellent," Stewart said. "So far, it hasn't given us any problems."
Stewart said fuel mileage has been comparable to traditional gasoline-powered equipment. Fuel prices have been very favorable. A gallon equivalent of compressed natural gas was selling for $1.49 on Tuesday, compared with $3.87 for diesel fuel.
Dever said he hopes the city will gather about 18 months worth of maintenance and fuel data on the compressed natural gas vehicles in the city's fleet and then determine whether it makes sense to add CNG vehicles on a larger scale.
In addition to the trash truck and the pickup truck, the city soon will add two flatbed water-hauling trucks that will run on compressed natural gas.
Officials with Black Hills Energy, the city's largest natural gas company, said a decision by the city or another large fleet operator to convert to compressed natural gas would make it more likely that a private company could open a quick-fueling CNG station that is open to the public.
"I think Lawrence would be a perfect place for a station," said Lon Meyer, the interim general manager for Black Hills Energy. "It is a vibrant, youthful, progressive town where a lot of people would see the benefits."