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Pasco officials promote CNG school buses, trash trucks

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Published:   |   Updated: April 17, 2013 at 10:50 AM
NEW PORT RICHEY -

Endorsements from school district leaders and garbage haulers could jump-start Pasco County goals to promote compressed natural gas as an alternative fuel.

Commissioner Henry Wilson said that he and other officials met recently with Kurt Browning, superintendent of Pasco schools.

Wilson received assurances the school district would consider buying new school buses using CNG fuel as older buses are replaced during the next few years.

All Pasco trash haulers also have agreed to buy some CNG-powered trucks as current trash collection trucks are retired.

It’s more practical to buy new buses or trucks using CNG, Wilson believes. Retrofitting existing gasoline-powered fleets for CNG can get prohibitively expensive.

In the meantime, Pasco County plans to conduct a feasibility study on CNG fueling stations, Wilson said. For CNG to become practical in fleets, Wilson envisions three fueling stations in the region.

The Pasco County Solid Waste Resource Recovery Facility, on Hays Road in the Hudson area, could be a logical choice for a fueling station, Wilson speculated.

The stations could offer fast-fill CNG pumps, which takes about the same time as filling a car’s tank with gasoline, Wilson added. The option remains for additional, slow-fill CNG pumps that take overnight to refill a tank, roughly eight hours.

Since September 2011, Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher and others had promoted the concept for CNG.

Bill Bunting, Pasco’s Republican state committeeman, has preached potential benefits of natural-gas powered vehicles for years.

But an age-old, chicken-or-the-egg conundrum confronted Pasco officials. On one hand, CNG fuel can slash costs compared to filling up with gasoline, cut pollution and dramatically reduce engine wear and tear. CNG can cost about $1.50 less than an equivalent gallon of gasoline.

On the other hand, the retrofit of an existing truck can get quite pricey. CNG fueling stations are few and far in between.

That’s where a bill from state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, could help.

The bill, if passed, basically aims to put natural gas on an equal footing at gas station pumps in the future.

His Senate Bill 560 on “Natural Gas Motor Fuel” has gotten unanimous support on several subcommittee votes before heading to an appropriations committee in the Senate.

“Currently, the bill provides that local governments would be permanently exempt from paying fuel tax on CNG,” Rachel Perrin Rogers, Simpson’s legislative assistant, recently said. Simpson and colleagues are examining other incentives toward converting vehicles.

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