A side view of the vehicle. Black Hills’ natural gas vehicle expert Tim Hess said the company is promoting the benefit of natural gas vehicles to fleet operators in the same way the company works closely with local community and business partners to spur economic growth and help improve life for the people Black Hills serves. Courtesy photos
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Natural gas has heated homes and cooked many a meal over the years, and now, a form of the fuel will soon be available at some gas stations around the country for use in vehicles.
Compressed natural gas is already being used in fleet vehicles in municipalities, including the City of Lawrence, where a sanitation truck powered by the fuel was recently purchased on a trial basis to see how much money could be saved on operating expense.
Drivers using the fuel will soon have a place to fill up in Liberal, as Hutch’s C Store is in the process of installing a pump at its location at 1580 N. Kansas.
Helping with the installation and supplying the gas for the pump is Black Hills Energy, and external affairs manager Monique Pope said Hutch’s will have a grand opening in the near future.
Pope said the event had originally been scheduled for June 5, but said delays in getting some of the equipment to Liberal have caused a setback in that date.
“I think they’re either looking at June 24 or July 2,” she said. “I think both of those days fall on a Tuesday.”
Although that date has been pushed back, Pope said Hutch’s and Black Hills are still planning to host a workshop on June 5 at the Liberal store.
“I believe it’s in the morning. It starts, I think, at 8 or 8:30 in the morning, and it goes till noon,” she said. “They’ll have speakers and information regarding the CNG fueling station, which will be great. I think it’ll be a great opportunity for people to learn more about it and just promote the CNG vehicles.”
Some topics covered at the workshop include safety and best practices information.
“I know that they have already kind of outlined a morning full of topics to address,” Pope said. “Ideally, they wanted to have their grand opening and the workshop at the same time. They understandably have to make sure all the equipment’s arrived and getting all that squared away.”
Pope said other locations for CNG outlets are being targeted in Southwest Kansas, and she added Northwest Kansas could see the fuel coming its way in the near future.
“Goodland, I believe, is kind of a tentative location,” she said. “They’re definitely looking to expand the offering.”
As most vehicles on the road today are fueled with traditional gasoline, diesel and ethanol, the current need for CNG is understandably low, but Pope said officials with both Black Hills and Hutch’s see a growing need for the fuel.
“That’s our hope,” she said. “In Lawrence, we have a refuse truck that is powered by CNG, and our municipal fleets recognize the benefits to using CNG to cut expenses as well as help the environment with reduced emissions, which is significant. Municipalities are always looking to reduce their fuel costs.”
So far, Black Hills officials and one City of Lawrence official are optimistic about CNG. Black Hills’s natural gas vehicle expert Tim Hess said the company is promoting the benefits of NGVs to fleet operators as a public service.
Lawrence Mayor Michael Dever is likewise enthusiastic about the prospects for using natural gas to fuel a variety of fleet vehicles.
“We’re committed to achieving the city’s sustainability goals by making practical decisions,” he said in a press release from Black Hills. “We must balance concern for the environment, long-term benefits for taxpayers and the needs of the Lawrence community.”
Buses for schools and public transportation currently are the largest category of natural gas vehicles, and almost 40 percent of the sanitation trucks purchased in 2011 were powered by natural gas.
Converting to natural gas is helping all levels of government cut fleet operation budgets and putting the money they save into education and other projects. Businesses of all sizes have found a way to increase profits through lower operating costs.
Hess said those claims are backed by plenty of statistics. More than 1.2 million miles of natural gas pipeline with a 100-year history of safe, reliable service already blanket the nation.
U.S. companies manufacture more than 100 models of light-, medium- and heavy-duty NGVs, and there are approximately 140,000 such vehicles fueled by more than 1,000 natural gas fueling stations across the country.
“From an economic and environmental standpoint, the benefits of natural gas as a vehicle fuel grow more enticing every day,” Hess said.