Muscogee County School District: Compressed Natural Gas Buses?

Unoffical Image of compressed natural gas service station

Muscogee County School District considers CNG

What do you think of Muscogee County school district considering a transition to Compressed Natural Gas powered school buses?

In February, WTVM reported that Muscogee County School District

was “eying compressed natural gas school buses.”  In the end, it was reported that Administrators would be “watching closely how a school district in Topeka, KS is doing since they made the switch.”

I found the report intriguing because it reminded me of a Stockbroker advising me to invest in a company that made a part essential in fitting vehicles to use CNG.  Though the report was filed a few months ago, I decided to check into what was making Compressed Natural Gas so attractive for municipalities and school districts.  Well, I’ve finally done it and here is what I’ve found.  Natural gas is the most environmentally clean fossil fuel today.  There are also claims of maintenance advantages, as well as advantages in costs and safety.  Concerns that are delaying government agencies as well as consumer markets are primarily Infrastructure, up-front costs and performance.

In some study cases, tune-ups stretched out by as much as 50,000 miles and oil changes lasted 25,000 miles longer.  In addition, because the natural gas does not react with the metals, mufflers and pipes may last longer.

Muscogee County School District Superintendent did recognize there are increased up-front costs, but stated the long term benefits are present. 

Research shows though there are increased costs in purchasing prices of CNG vehicles, the main advantage to municipalities and school districts should be in long-term lower costs.  Fuel costs are expected to be lower because natural gas averages one-third cheaper per equivalent gallon than gasoline.  Moreover, since the cost of Diesel at the pump is higher than gasoline, the advantage over diesel is more significant.  This makes it an attractive investment for larger cities with many types of vehicles as well as school districts that spend a substantial amount on fuel.

So if it costs less per gallon, is cheaper to maintain vehicles and is better for the environment, what’s the holdup?  Well for starters, there is some disagreement as to performance with some saying natural gas gives roughly the same mileage as gasoline while others say there is up to 30% less efficiency.  Those for it say that the natural gas octane rating of 130 aids in superior engine performance, when compared to gasoline engines.  Opponents say the 30% less mileage per gallon nullifies the price per gallon advantage.  That possibility, along with the increased purchase costs of CNG vehicles and the investment required to build CNG storage and fueling points weighs heavily on the minds of budget minded administrators.  Though proponents say there are fixes to make CNG more efficient, the fixes also require investment.

What’s the truth?  Well with politics getting in the way, sometimes it’s somewhat difficult to get down to the bottom of things.  There seems to be more than one version of the truth.  Bottom line, as reported by WTVM, Muscogee County is closely watching how a school district in Topeka, KS is doing.  Comparing bottom lines seems like the prudent way to get an accurate comparison.

Along with the above-mentioned advantages and disadvantages, safety should be at the forefront of all considerations.  Some studies show that CNG vehicles are as much as 37% safer than gasoline powered vehicles.

Muscogee County School District is playing it smart

It appears that there are indeed long-term cost cutting benefits and several other advantages, but I like the idea of watching another district first.  Sometimes hope turns out to be nothing more than hype and there’s nothing wrong with a cautious approach.

Get the full WTVM story here

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