Natural Gas Use Up In Tampa Bay As Fleets Convert

Tampa Bay is making its mark on clean energy and alternative fuel consumption with the addition of compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations and vehicles.
 
CNG is a relatively low-cost, environmentally friendly, natural fuel that burns cleaner than conventional gasoline. Available domestically, CNG sells for about $1 per gallon less than gasoline, emits about 40 percent less greenhouse gases and extends engines lives while enabling less cost for maintenance.

The first station in Tampa Bay opened in Clearwater in October, 2011. The City of Clearwater now has seven trucks operating on CNG and plans to convert all 70 of its garbage trucks within the next eight years. Other city departments such as public works and public utilities are converting vehicles as well.

"We're hoping this really catches on and that we get more commercial outfits,'' says Lisa Brown, marketing coordinator and public information specialist for the City of Clearwater Natural Gas Vehicles. "It really makes a lot of sense if the outfit does a lot of transportation and delivery of items through Clearwater.''
 
The newly designed vehicles can be identified by placement of a logo with blue-and-green lettering and a dandelion. The city regularly receives calls from other businesses and consumers interested in natural gas, and sees this as a growing trend. Verizon uses the station for 13 of its vans; Waste Pro does for two trucks. The jolly trolley on Clearwater Beach also has one natural gas trolley.
 
The conversion to national gas was encouraged by a study done by the City that assessed the amount of greenhouse gas emissions occurring.

Paying It Up Front And Forward

The process to switch to CNG vehicles can take a while because new vehicles using CNG can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $35,000. Converting vehicles runs around $80,000 each. Most businesses and public agencies are purchasing new vehicles as they retire old ones. Bi-fuel vehicles are becoming more popular as well because they can run on either gasoline or CNG.

Tampa International Airport (TIA) opened a public fueling station in March of 2012. The airport plans to convert at least 72 percent of its 115-vehicle fleet to CNG over the next 10 years, saving an expected $1 million. CNG is currently being used to fuel the airport's 16 economy parking shuttles as well as eight other vehicles. Public customers used an estimated 7,500 gallons at the station in 2012.

The City of Tampa Solid Waste Department recently unveiled five new CNG trucks and plans to add five more to its fleet by 2014. The trucks will fuel at TIA's station.

A third public station is set to open near the Port of Tampa by April of this year. The station is owned by Trillium, which is currently seeking corporate and private users.

J.J. Taylor Companies in Tampa, a beer distribution firm, opened a new CNG fueling station in February and plans to replace its entire fleet of 95 trucks with CNG operated vehicles in the next 36 months.

Hillsborough County is considering converting heavy duty vehicles to CNG and currently has one vehicle used by the Environmental Protection Commission. The county's Department of Energy, along with the USF Patel School of Global Sustainability and TECO Energy have also started the Clean Cities Coalition, which helps companies, individuals and government entities with research and use of alternative fuels.

"We want to bring more options into the county,'' says Margaret Rush, sustainability program coordinator for the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County. "We're developing a one-stop shop that can help you find the best information and the best way to move forward.''

Public Stations Welcome Private Vehicles

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) is converting its entire fleet of buses to CNG. The Authority recently received $6.3 million in federal grant funding to purchase CNG-powered buses and build a fueling station on 21st Avenue in Tampa, scheduled to open in early 2014. HART currently has a fleet of more than 230 buses and vans. Beginning with the vans, retired vehicles are being replaced with CNG-powered options. The estimated timeframe for completion of the conversion is 10 to 12 years. The estimated yearly savings to HART is $750,000.
 
"CNG is cleaner,'' says Marcia Mejia, public information officer for HART. "It burns cleaner, so it's better for our environment. It has the added benefit of being available domestically.''

The stations at TIA, the Port of Tampa and Clearwater are open to the public. Access must be provided by the institution.

Megan Hendricks is a native Floridian and longtime Tampa Bay resident who loves the culture and diversity of the region. In her free time she enjoys local restaurants, thrift store shopping and spending time with her family. She earned her masters of business administration from USF Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

Megan Hendricks is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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