Missouri school district converts to natural gas buses

Thursday, August 1, 2013 | 9:20 a.m. CDT; updated 5:57 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 1, 2013

LEE'S SUMMIT — Students in a suburban Kansas City school district will be riding in buses powered by natural gas this school year, as the district switches to the fuel for a majority of its buses and many district vehicles over the next 10 years.

The Lee's Summit School District will have 106 new yellow buses on the streets this month and within 10 years the district plans to have at least 139 of its 149 school buses operating on natural gas instead of diesel, with the others converted to another type of fuel. Nearly 50 district trucks and vans also will be switched to natural gas.

The district will spend $20.3 million, with substantial private investment and public incentives, but the move should save about $11 million over 10 years, school district officials said. The first two new buses were delivered this week, and more will arrive through the end of the calendar year.

"It's quieter, it's cleaner and it costs less," said Linda Thompson, district transportation director. "It's the perfect formula."

The district will use the savings to invest in more technology, including $5 million for the coming year.

The Lee's Summit district is not the first public entity in the Kansas City area to switch to compressed natural gas, or CNG, although it's the most comprehensive program, The Kansas City Star reported.

The Kansas City, Kan., school district bought 47 natural gas buses in 2011. The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority this summer introduced two CNG buses and ordered 23 more. And Kansas City, Mo., has converted about a tenth of its fleet to CNG vehicles in the past decade.

"We are really enjoying the benefits of the cost of natural gas versus diesel and looking forward to the savings," said Lenora Miller, transportation director for the Kansas City, Kan., school district.

Kelly Gilbert, who oversees the Clean Cities Program for the nonprofit Metropolitan Energy Center, said school districts interested in the switch often are put off by the cost. Kansas City, Kan., schools received a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

In Lee's Summit, Clean Energy Fuels, the largest supplier of natural gas for transportation in the United States, will invest $2.2 million to install the infrastructure for CNG pumps, including one on district property that will be available to the public and other governments.

The district also is receiving about $330,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the natural gas conversion. And it will receive a 55-cent rebate from the federal government for each gallon equivalent of CNG that displaces diesel fuel, as well as no longer having to pay a 17-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel.

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