On Tuesday, May 22, 2012, the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA) took delivery of the first of 50 new compressed natural gas (CNG) refuse collection vehicles that the ECUA Board approved for purchase at its November 2011 meeting.

ECUA Executive Director Steve Sorrell stated, “By transitioning to CNG in natural gas vehicles (NGVs), the ECUA is projecting an annual maintenance cost savings in excess of $350,000, and about $900,000 in annual fuel costs.  And there are environmental benefits associated with the use of NGVs in that there are less greenhouse gas emissions.  While there are up-front capital costs in buying or converting to a natural gas fleet, the fuel costs are considerably lower, making NGVs much more affordable over the long run.”  In the U.S., the current per-gallon price range for diesel fuel is generally between $3.40 and $3.80. The price range of natural gas starts at just over $1.00 per equivalent gallon.

ECUA plans to convert an additional 10-15 vehicles in its Water and Wastewater fleet during the first year of the agreement, with additional vehicles converted over the next eight years as part of normal vehicle replacement schedules.

The CNG vehicles will be very similar to the current trucks in the ECUA fleet.  The biggest difference is that any diesel truck manufactured after 2007 is required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to have a diesel particulate filter (DPF), which filters the exhaust emissions prior to leaving the exhaust stack.  The addition of these filters, which cost about $5,000, has increased the vehicle downtime and maintenance costs.  Because CNG burns cleaner than diesel fuel, the EPA does not require the DPF system on CNG vehicles.  The other major difference is that,  instead of one large 80-gallon diesel fuel tank on each truck, the CNG trucks will have three 25 -gallon CNG tanks. These tanks will be stacked between the cab and the body or on the top of the body depending on the type of collection vehicle.

ECUA Deputy Executive Director of Shared Services, Randy Rudd commented, “The total cost of the 50 Sanitation trucks is $12,029,000, or an average of $240,580 per truck. The average garbage truck in our fleet uses approximately 9,000 gallons of fuel per year and at current prices CNG is $2.83 per gallon less than diesel fuel.  The miles per gallon performance for a current garbage truck is approximately the same for diesel or CNG fuel, so we expect a “return-on-investment” of the additional $20,000 per truck in less than one year on fuel costs alone.  The new CNG trucks will have an 8 to 10 year lifespan, so the lifecycle savings are substantial for the CNG vehicles.”

Rudd added, “ECUA customers will see a direct benefit. Currently the ECUA bills include a fuel surcharge that is based on the price of diesel fuel. At present market cost, the surcharge is $1.45 per month to a full rate customer.  Because the price of CNG is appreciably less than diesel fuel, we expect our customers will realize an immediate savings through a reduced fuel surcharge once the switch to CNG has been implemented.”

In 2011, ECUA finalized a ten-year CNG agreement with Energy Services of Pensacola (ESP).  As part of the agreement, ESP is constructing the first fast-fill CNG station on ECUA property.  On Thursday, May 31, 2012 @ 9:00 a.m., the official groundbreaking ceremony will commence at 3050 Godwin Lane. Sorrell says, “Design and permitting has been finalized and construction is expected to be completed in July 2012.  Under the terms of the agreement, ECUA will pay ESP a monthly transportation charge as well as an indexed price per diesel gallon equivalent of CNG fuel used by ECUA vehicles. ESP will operate and maintain the station, which eventually will be open to the public and third-party fleets.”