Columbia set to purchase 16 natural gas vehicles

Monday, June 24, 2013 | 5:45 p.m. CDT; updated 7:41 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 24, 2013

COLUMBIA — The city is making plans to buy 16 vehicles with compressed-natural-gas engines and to build a natural gas fueling station in northeast Columbia.

Eric Evans, fleet operations manager for the city, said the fleet optimization committee will meet this week to review specifications for the vehicles before the Finance Department issues purchasing orders.

The purchase will include vehicles for the Parks and Recreation, Public Works, and Water and Light departments. The total estimated cost for the 16 vehicles would be $3.5 million, Evans said.

According to an email from Public Works Department spokesman Steven Sapp sent Monday afternoon, among the vehicles intended for purchase are two 40-foot buses for Columbia Transit and Paratransit; two replacement refuse trucks for the Parks and Recreation Department; two replacement dump trucks and a pickup truck for street and sidewalk services; six replacement vehicles for refuse collection and three pickups for the Water and Light Department.

The city also is working on building a compressed natural-gas station on Lake Ridgeway Drive near Bass Pro Shops, according a report to the Columbia City Council from Public Works Director John Glascock. The location was chosen because it has proper zoning and is easily accessible from Interstate 70 and U.S. 63

The station will cost between $1.5 million and $2.8 million, depending on final details of the city's contract with the fuel company Clean Energy.

City Manager Mike Matthes told the City Council last Monday that the station would be able to serve compressed natural gas vehicles traveling between St. Louis and Kansas City.

"In those markets, the attraction here is they can't get all the way across on a tank, but they can get here," Matthes said.

Sapp said plans call for the station to have two pumps for city vehicles and one for the public.

Glascock told the council that two companies already havecommitted to buying compressed natural-gas vehicles and intend to use the fueling station.

Because the vehicles are made to order, Sapp said it could take more than a year for the city to add them to its fleet.

"We don't think we've got the cart before the horse," Sapp said. "We fully expect the CNG station to be operational before the vehicles arrive."

In addition to the 16 vehicles, the city has applied for a federal TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would cover the city's share of costs for building the station, bus shelters with solar-powered electronic signs, 13 compressed-natural-gas buses and four electric vehicle charging stations.

The council's plans to convert part of its fleet to natural gas have raised some concerns with members of the public, including Monta Welch of Peoples Visioning and the Columbia Climate Change Coalition.

Welch said the city should take a closer look at other alternative energy sources and carefully examine the potential impacts on the environment and public health.

"Using the public's money should require much more in-depth comparison when we're looking to make these kinds of investments for the public," Welch said.

One of the ways natural gas is extracted is through hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," which is done by injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground. 

The EPA has said that there are potential risks that come with fracking, including air pollution and contamination of ground and surface water.

Citing a report from the Groundwater Protection Council, the Public Works memo to the council said that "current data suggests that problems with fracking only occur in a very small percentage of wells; one recorded incident for every 2,833 wells drilled representing a failure rate of 0.03%."

The EPA is researching the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and intends to release a final report next year.

The report to the council also said that compressed natural gas is cheaper than diesel fuel and that vehicles using compressed natural-gas produce fewer carbon emissions than vehicles using biodiesel.

The report notes that the city has been using biodiesel since 2002. About 300 city vehicles use a total of more than 550,000 gallons of biodiesel each year. Compressed natural gas is cheaper, however, and the city would be able to recoup the additional cost of compressed natural gas vehicles within four or five years, the report said.

Mayor Bob McDavid supports the station. "It's saving us money, it's saving us carbon, and we're doing it with a domestically produced fuel."

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said that while there are some environmental concerns with natural gas, especially with fracking, there are similar concerns with diesel.

"We get some big benefits right away, and the negatives are the same," Trapp said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas moved at last Monday's meeting to delay going forward with the purchase of the vehicles until the next council session, but the motion did not pass.

In a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Thomas said he wanted additional time to research natural gas, including its environmental impact and possible alternatives. 

"I do intend to continue to look at CNG vs. biodiesel vs. solar electric to develop my own opinion," Thomas said. 

 Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Corey Parks June 24, 2013 | 11:01 p.m.

Mr Bremer, You should have included a paragraph or two showing how much the current set of vehicles cost to purchase and what the maintenance and fueling costs were over their use by Columbia departments and how much the new ones would be for the same time period. For instance a CNG Honda Civic will run you about $5k more then the normal version. That $5k would give you about 1428 gallons of gas at $3.50 a gallon. The average driver drives about 15000 miles a year. You can bet the city vehicles get more then that based on the fact that they drive 5 days a week most of the day. It would take that civic 3.3 years of average driving to recoup that extra $5k spend on its purchase. Once most state or city vehicles hit a certain mark on the odometer they are set for auction so they can purchase new. Sounds like another Blind Boone Fiasco too me.

(Report Comment)
Steven Sapp June 25, 2013 | 5:48 a.m.

Corey Parks, That information is certainly available and was included, I believe, in the report to council. You are welcome to call us at 874-7250 or visit us on the 3rd floor of City Hall at 701 E Broadway to obtain that information.


Steven Sapp, Public Information Specialist.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 25, 2013 | 6:47 a.m.

Others can argue cost issues - and that's a legitimate exercise.

1- Use of natural gas as motor fuel is NOT new. Who has used it before? Surprise! Some natural gas producers or transfer (pipeline) agents have used it to power their service vehicles. My understanding is those vehicle engines were converted to run on the fuel (the vehicles themselves weren't initially designed to do so).

2- As the term is usually employed, natural gas is a clean-burning fuel (particularly versus #2 diesel fuel), but its combustion produces carbon dioxide. THAT PROBLEM WILL NOT BE SOLVED OR SUBSTANTIALLY REDUCED BY SWITCHING FUELS. I assume the city understands that.

3- Fracking, where used to obtain natural gas, happens no matter for what purpose the gas is eventually used. So long as use of natural gas for transportation remains minor, I doubt it will effect the amount of fracking employed. But fracking itself is most definitely a legitimate issue.

4- While compressed hydrogen and compressed natural gas both represent potential safety hazards, I'd sooner work with or around compressed natural gas. (Some of us are old enough to remember the spectacular end of the "Hindenburg.")

5- A federally approved DOT fueling station for compressed hydrogen gas has previously been built at Rolla, Misouri. (There was an article or two in this newspaper.) The station is accessible from I-44, just as this compressed natural gas facility would be accessible from I-70. I have no information how much business the station receives from "through traffic," but local use has been to fuel shuttle bus transportation between Rolla and Fort Leonard Wood. (Have Columbia folks "interfaced" with Rolla folks about the latter's experiences operating a station?*)

6- While use of hydrogen as a motor fuel poses serious potential safety concerns, the product of that combustion is WATER VAPOR, which is not a "greenhouse gas."

*- Damn, I forgot: it's not normal for such a thing to happen. My bad!

(Report Comment)
Arthur Cook Bremer June 25, 2013 | 12:04 p.m.

Mr. Parks,

According to the report from the Department of Public Works, the compressed natural gas vehicles would cost between $10,000 to $40,000 more than their diesel counterparts. The report estimates they will recoup the additional cost within four to five years due to the lower fuel cost compared to diesel. Thank you for your interest in the story, and I hope this was helpful.

-Arthur Cook Bremer

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 25, 2013 | 3:30 p.m.

"...the compressed natural gas vehicles would cost between $10,000 to $40,000 more than their diesel counterparts."

Gosh, I'm hoping that's "total" and not "each".

Whatever the case, is it planned that these vehicles will still be in use after 4-5 years? Corey's question about the odometers hitting certain marks and triggering an auction plus purchase of "new" IS an appropriate one. I would expect the City to end up in positive territory rather than just breakeven; that would be good management of resources. Otherwise, this is just a political exercise with one public agenda hiding a political one. That would NOT be good management of resources.

If the payout is positive, I support this.
If not, I don't.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield June 25, 2013 | 4:23 p.m.

"The report estimates they will recoup the additional cost within four to five years due to the lower fuel cost compared to diesel."

But that still leaves the cost of building and operating the fueling station, right? If so, the payback period is much longer -- and possibly never if Corey is correct about how vehicles are retired.

Also, $1.5M-$2.8M is quite a spread. I could see a range of a couple hundred thousand, but $1.3M? That's almost the low end of the project.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 26, 2013 | 6:12 a.m.

Michael et al.:

I too wondered about the price quoted for vehicles. In discussions, years ago, with a natural gas pipeline company about their natural gas fueled sedans and pickup trucks they suggested they CONVERTED existing gasoline burning engines to burn natural gas. I don't recall cost figures being mentioned.

The reasons the subject came up were:

1- They were our natural gas supplier (we were an industrial customer). A significant portion of our manuacturing costs was fuel. (Goes with the business.)

2- Their sedans and pickup trucks had rear bumper stickers on them which said, "This vehicle runs on clean-burning natural gas." (As I suggested in my above post, exhaust gases would be relatively clean - but NOT for carbon dioxide.)

As to whether I'm for this proposition, I no longer reside in Columbia, Missouri, but if this were proposed where I now live I'd be asking more questions.

[I'm going to ask around to see whether that DOT hydrogen fueling station on I-44 at Rolla has obtained business ouside of local bus use. If it has, I'd expect the business to be contractual: I wouldn't expect many vehicles just dropping in unexpectedly for fueling. :)]

PS: As industrial fuels go, there's a LOT to like about natural gas. It contains few particulates or undesired chemical compounds, it's already in a gasous state (not a liquid or a solid), and it has very good caloric value. But burning it creates carbon dioxide. Combustion chemistry is combustion chemistry: we can't change it!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 27, 2013 | 11:34 a.m.


Today was our biweekly pick up for recycled waste. Our city collects landfill waste (weekly), but Waste Management, a national, public-traded company, does recycles. For both services we use the cart system (just different carts).

I've lived here 9 months now and don't know how I missed it, but today I noticed that part of the logo on Waste Management's collection trucks says their trucks run on "clean burning natural gas."

As it happens, I own stock in Waste Management. Seems I need to read their annual reports more carefully.

Having equity in firms producing non-agricultural materials that society needs (energy sources, minerals, etc.) or dispose of what society discards isn't a bad place to invest one's money: those are necessary functions, and if a firm can't make a profit at them there has to be something wrong with its management (or else the government has again screwed matters up).

(Report Comment)

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