Share This Page

Western Pennsylvania governments slow to move to natural gas vehicles

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 11:28 p.m.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald implored lawmakers from the Pittsburgh region who voted against a $2.3 billion transportation plan to reconsider their votes for the sake of the region’s economy.

Western Pennsylvania sits above one of the world's largest natural gas reserves, but local governments have been slow to tap the resource to power their vehicles despite potential environmental and long-range economic benefits.

Allegheny County last week became the region's first county government to buy natural gas-powered vehicles.

The two bi-fuel pickups — they can run on natural gas or traditional fuel — are now part of the public works department's fleet. The trucks will be used in the Downtown area, where they can remain close to EQT's natural gas fueling station in the Strip District.

“Natural gas vehicles have a number of advantages,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Among them, Fitzgerald said almost 90 percent of the natural gas used in the United States is produced domestically and it is more environmentally friendly, releasing fewer smog-producing pollutants and greenhouse gases than vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel.

“And natural gas is less expensive than gasoline, which contributes to our bottom line,” Fitzgerald said.

Natural gas typically costs about $1.50 to $2 less per equivalent gallon of gasoline, according to the Washington-based advocacy group NGVAmerica.

The two pickups represent a tiny fraction of the county's 690-vehicle fleet. And despite potential long-term fuel savings, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said each of the pickups cost about $10,000 more than a traditional pickup.

Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties don't own any natural gas vehicles. Their fleets include a combined 677 vehicles. Armstrong County officials did not say how many vehicles are in their fleet, but Public Works Manager Roy Carney said none runs on natural gas.

“It's not that we're opposed to it by any means. We want to be as energy-conscious as we can be,” said Mary Helicke, chief clerk for Washington County.

“The issue for us is refueling or pumping stations. There aren't enough to manage a fleet of 135 vehicles,” Helicke said.

Allegheny County has two public fueling stations — EQT's in the Strip District and one in Crafton that is owned by Giant Eagle. Waste Management Inc. has a public fueling station in Washington.

“We're seeing interest where customers can see an economic advantage and where there is enough infrastructure to support it. Infrastructure is critical,” said Richard Kauling, engineering manager for General Motors' Gaseous Fuel Technical Resource Centre in Ontario, Canada.

Put simply, as Beaver County Chief Clerk Tracey Patton said, “We're not going to drive to the Strip District to fill up our vehicles.”

Aside from counties, the city of Pittsburgh has five natural gas vehicles — including four garbage trucks — in its 1,100-vehicle fleet, said Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski.

Port Authority of Allegheny County is studying a partial conversion of its fleet of diesel-powered buses. Officials have said the move could save at least $3 million a year, but the conversion's upfront costs could be more than $20 million.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.