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The Suburbanite
  • SARTA rolls out natural-gas fueled buses

  • The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority on Friday rolled out its first six compressed natural gas buses and demonstrated the operation of its new CNG fueling facility, the first in Stark County that can be used by the public.S

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  •  The natural gas that heats homes now fuels local buses.
    The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority on Friday rolled out its first six compressed natural gas buses and demonstrated the operation of its new CNG fueling facility, the first in Stark County that can be used by the public.
    “Ultimately, it should save hundreds of thousand dollars a year in fuel costs,” said SARTA Executive Director Kirt Conrad. “And it’s a cleaner technology.”
    Marking the occasion, Conrad held a catered outdoor event Friday afternoon at SARTA’s Gateway Boulevard SE headquarters for dozens of guests, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and Mayor William J. Healy II, who addressed the crowd.
    By the end of August, SARTA expects that natural gas will power 23 of its 85 buses. By the end of 2013, it expects to have eight 40-foot buses, 10 35-foot buses and 32 smaller paratransit buses that will be compressed natural gas vehicles.
    EXPECTED SAVINGS
    Conrad said he decided last summer to convert most of the fleet to CNG buses — because natural gas usually costs less than diesel fuel.
    Conrad said SARTA is paying about a dollar for a quantity of natural gas that’s equivalent to a gallon of fuel. (SARTA is buying the gas from Hess, but it is being delivered by Dominion East Ohio through its gas lines). SARTA is paying $3.04 a gallon for diesel fuel.
    “If you look at the last five years, diesel fuel has just gone crazy,” Conrad said, while the price of natural gas, which has fallen to below $3 per thousand cubic feet “fell through the floor.”
    Conrad conservatively expects SARTA will realize savings of more than $500,000 a year with 50 CNG buses.
    With energy companies finding a plentiful supply of natural gas through more advanced hydraulic fracturing of shale, Conrad doesn’t expect a repeat of 2005, when natural gas prices dramatically spiked.
    CNG buses also come with side benefits, such as slightly quieter engines and significantly less pollution, said Conrad. And CNG vehicles require fewer oil changes and put less wear and tear on the motors.
     SARTA had to install a federally funded $800,000 ventilation system in its garage to prevent an accumulation of gas that could spark an explosion.
    And if the CNG fueling facility’s compressors break down, Conrad said, “it’s not like you can go around the corner and get gas.” The buses would have to go up to Akron to use Metro’s fueling CNG station. And it will take longer to get replacement parts for the CNG engines.
    COSTS
    Conrad said federal and state grants will cover the bulk of the cost of the CNG vehicles. A 40-foot CNG bus costs $412,000, about $20,000 to $30,000 more than a diesel bus.
    Page 2 of 2 - The cost of hiring the California company Clean Energy to build the fueling facility by SARTA’s headquarters building cost $1.6 million. The money came from about $500,000 in federal stimulus money through the non-profit group Clean Fuels Ohio, other federal grants and $900,000 in local funds, which nearly all comes from SARTA’s quarter-percent sales tax. Construction took place from October until April, Conrad said.
    The natural gas comes from a Dominion fuel line that serves SARTA’s headquarters. The line feeds into equipment by the headquarters building that removes moisture from the gas so it doesn’t corrode the engine, and then compressors increase the gas’ pressure by 100 times so it can be pumped into the vehicles.
    It can take 15 minutes to pump the maximum 3,600 thousand cubic feet of natural gas into a bus, allowing it to travel about 300 miles.
    A line also feeds gas into a public fueling station in the parking lot where any motorist for the equivalent of $2.35 a gallon can fill their CNG vehicle.
    Conrad said the first CNG buses will be deployed to SARTA’s Route 81 express service to Akron and the Route 105 Cleveland Avenue to Belden Village service.