Clean fuel

The front page of Wednesday’s Herald featured three stories about local affairs. Two were about where things are at – Durango City Council’s inexplicable interest in grocery bags and the county commissioners’ unwillingness to recognize that Colorado voters legalized marijuana. The third was about where we should be going.

The Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency – better known as 4CORE – hosted a meeting Tuesday for area fleet managers to look at ways to power their vehicles with alternative fuels. The third such event, it was sponsored by BP and by 4CORE through a Department of Energy grant.

The most obvious alternative fuels would be natural gas and propane, which is a by-product of gas and oil production. Doing so would reduce pollution, save money, and support and involve local industry.

Fueling fleet vehicles with natural gas or propane makes particular sense in that such cars and trucks are typically operated out of a central facility and are primarily used within limited areas. With that, they can be refilled in central locations.

The problem with natural gas is circular. As 4CORE’s Greg Dubbit put it, “We don’t have compressed natural-gas vehicles, but we don’t have any places to fuel them.”

Then again, there were no gas stations when Henry Ford was born. When he died, they were a commonplace.

Other places have found solutions. Los Angeles has converted its entire fleet of buses to run on natural gas. A Grand Junction official told the Herald that the city powers “12 garbage trucks, a dump truck and a street sweeper” on natural gas.

In Durango, fleets of vehicles are operated by the city, the county, Durango School District 9-R, La Plata Electric Association and various state and federal agencies. And most of them have their headquarters or yards within a couple of miles of each other.

Of course, there are other issues. District 9-R buses taking students to games or events statewide could have trouble finding natural-gas fueling stations.

The school district, however, has 35 diesel-powered buses. Surely not all of them are used for long trips; save a few diesels for those occasions. And as more and more vehicles are being powered by natural gas, fueling stations should become more common. Grand Junction’s sees about 200 private fill-ups per month.

Fleet managers would also have to adapt their shops to accommodate the gas-powered technology. But that really just means some new equipment to work on natural-gas vehicles and perhaps some training.

Converting local fleets to natural gas should appeal to just about everyone. Not only is it far less polluting than diesel or gasoline, but because engines powered by natural gas or propane run cleaner, they last longer. Over time, that saves money. Compressed natural gas is also cheaper. A piece in Forbes last month reported the per gallon equivalent price for natural gas is about $1.50.

So the environment and local budgets could both get a boost. What is there not to like?

Plus, the gas is here, as is the technology, the know-how and the gas companies. That BP cosponsored Tuesday’s event is telling, and hopeful.

All that is needed is leadership, which is where the City Council and county commissioners come in. 4CORE has done good work with this, but it is our elected officials who control two local vehicle fleets, occupy bully pulpits and wield the most powerful local political leadership. The city, the county – or the two working together – should take the lead and work with the industry to establish fueling stations to facilitate this conversion.

Better that than more about bags and pot.

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