Friday, December 4, 2020

CNG fueling station faces new obstacles

Not enough commitments to build a station

by Olivia Lueckemeyer

For more than a year now Gunnison County has been working toward building a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station in Gunnison. However, due to a lack of commitments to use the station from local entities, those plans have been postponed.

At a board of county commissioners meeting in May, county manager Matthew Birnie explained that Trillium, the company that would operate the fueling station, needs more of a commitment from local entities to purchase and operate CNG vehicles to make construction viable. The company did receive a $500,000 grant from the governor’s energy office to build the station, but a few additional factors are needed to make the station a reality.

“We’ve gotten a lot of interest from a lot of folks, both public and private, who I believe would use the station, but it’s a chicken and egg thing,” Birnie said to the board. “People are concerned about making a commitment.”

The Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) had planned to purchase two CNG buses last fall, but it was waiting on a state Department of Local Affairs grant, which was not acquired in time. Instead, the RTA opted for two diesel buses. Since then, a DOLA grant for $300,502 has been awarded to the county, and RTA executive director Scott Truex says part of the cost for one CNG bus is accounted for within this fund.

“Part of the new county DOLA grant is for the cost difference for the RTA between the diesel bus and the CNG bus,” Truex said. “A station would need to be guaranteed prior to us placing an order for a CNG bus, since we would need a way to fuel it. The county grant definitely makes a difference for us since the cost differential is quite a bit for our type of vehicle.”

According to Birnie, the county also plans to use the grant to purchase a variety of dual-fuel “light duty” vehicles for areas such as public works and law enforcement. He identified these light-duty vehicles as three-quarter-ton pickup trucks and half-ton patrol cars. He says there is low risk associated with this purchase, because even if a station is never built, these vehicles can still run on diesel.

However, when it comes to larger vehicles fueled entirely by CNG, such as the buses used by the RTA, not having a station is a risk the many local entities cannot take.

“The station really needs to be in place by this fall when the RTA has to order the next bus or they wont be able to do that,” Birnie said.

Entities such as the school district, Waste Management, and the city of Gunnison have expressed their interest in purchasing CNG vehicles, but no official commitment has been made. Birnie said the county is in preliminary discussions with Trillium to determine how to move forward with the construction of a station. He is confident that despite the current obstacles, the ultimate goal will be achieved.

“We may have to think a little differently about the project and maybe take an approach we haven’t taken, but especially with the grant it makes financial sense,” Birnie said. “It has geopolitical implications because fuel would be produced locally, and environmental implications since it would be lower carbon intensity fuel. So I think we can still get there.”

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