By Heather Miller
Photo by Robin May
Louisiana as a whole is “way behind” on the use of compressed natural gas as a cheaper and cleaner fuel for vehicles, but leave it to Lafayette to once again distinguish itself a leader in the state for its efforts to lower the city’s carbon emissions with CNG-run government vehicles and natural gas fueling stations for the public.
Lafayette Consolidated Government Planning Manager Mike Hollier says the city is roughly 2.5 years into its five-year plan to convert all of the city’s buses and most city-owned vehicles (more than 100) to run on CNG.
The benefits for the city and its residents are two-fold, Hollier says, because CNG is both cheaper (about $1.80 per gas gallon equivalent) and helps to lower the EPA-monitored carbon footprint in Lafayette.With grant money in place from both the state and the federal government, Lafayette has already converted five of its buses to run on CNG. Hollier hopes to have more than 100 city-owned vehicles converted to CNG within two years, while also working with UL Lafayette and the Lafayette Parish School System to have their transit buses running on the clean-burning fuel within the same time frame.
The city currently has two CNG fueling stations in operation — the privately owned Apache station on Verot School Road and the LCG-owned station at the public works facility — and a third slated to open in the next few months. That one, on North University Avenue, will be LCG-owned and open to the public. The five-year plan, if successful, will also bring a third public fueling facility (Apache is open to the public) to an undetermined location along I-49 or I-10.
“After two years and a lot of study, it was decided that CNG was the way to go both in the short term and the long term,” Hollier says. “There’s a very positive cost benefit. There’s an additional capital outlay up front, [but] once you make those conversions, the benefits begin to pay off in a matter of years.”
Louisiana is the nation’s top producer of natural gas, according to Louisiana Oil and Gas Association Vice President Gifford Briggs, a factor Hollier says played a role in the city’s decision to invest in CNG.
“It’s home-produced and readily available all around us,” Hollier says.
CNG conversion is a no-brainer for oil and gas industry advocates like Briggs, who notes that the U.S. has a 100- to 150-year supply of natural gas.
Briggs, who commutes daily from his home in Lafayette to the LOGA office in Baton Rouge, has so much faith in the future of natural gas he decided to “put his money where his mouth is” and converted his own Ford Expedition to a “bi-fuel” SUV that runs on both gasoline and CNG. The LOGA lobbyist is able to take advantage of two different types of CNG fueling stations — the Apache station on Verot as well as a home fueling station that’s been installed at LOGA’s office, the Jimmy Davis House in Baton Rouge.
“Apache donated the whole thing,” Briggs explains. “For all practical purposes it’s a box with a hose coming out of it that’s connected to our natural gas line. It’s similar to what we’d do to electric vehicles.”
Money, however, is one of the reasons natural gas hasn’t taken off as quickly as many had hoped in terms of replacing gasoline as the primary means of fueling vehicles. As a recent Wall Street Journal report notes, government agencies using dump trucks, buses and other gas guzzlers and heavy polluters are more eager to jump on board with the start-up costs that come with CNG conversion. The average American is less enthusiastic about conversion costs that run in the thousands, and before recently factories weren’t even churning out CNG-ready vehicles for consumers to consider.
But the nation and Louisiana are finally catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to CNG, Briggs says, with Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet all slated to place bi-fuel pickup trucks on the market soon, albeit in limited availability.
The 100 percent CNG Honda Civic could be available for purchase at Moss Motors within six months thanks to the Apache CNG station that recently opened and the plans for more CNG stations to come. Briggs notes that Honda does not allow dealerships to sell the CNG model unless there’s a fueling station within 25 miles.
“We have enough natural gas to fuel transportation infrastructure, and we rely heavily on oil from countries outside the U.S.,” Briggs says. “It’s cheaper; it’s better for the environment. It seems like it’s such an obvious win for Louisiana because we could very easily become energy independent.”
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