The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Athens & Limestone County Today

February 25, 2013

Athens on cutting edge of green technology

— That construction you see adjacent to the Athens Sportsplex along U.S. 31 isn’t just another gasoline station. While it will in fact be a filling station, it’s not the type of gas most Americans typically use.

This particular filling station will be for vehicles that operate on CNG — Compressed Natural Gas. The CNG filling station will be part of the Interstate 65 CNG corridor and will be the only CNG filling station between Birmingham and Nashville.

“It will be open to the public,” said Steve Carter, manager of the Athens Gas Department. “We’ve already had several people come by to ask when it will be open.”

Although not as publicized as electric cars and hybrids on the market, CNG vehicles are comparable in price and some say they contain many features better than their gasoline-based or alternative fuel cousins.

According to the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, power, acceleration, fuel economy and cruise speed on CNG vehicles are comparable with gasoline or diesel engines. As a gaseous fuel, natural gas has superior cold-weather starting and driving characteristics.  Natural gas also has an octane rating of 130, which is higher than most premium gasoline.

“The electric cars have gotten a lot of publicity lately — and the government gives discounts for those. You don’t see those (discounts) on the CNG. It is transitioning slowly, but with gasoline spiking, I expect it to pick up.”

The average price of gasoline in the United State in January was $3.57 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Compare that with an average price of compressed natural gas at approximately $1.65 per gallon and it is possible the transition could come sooner rather than later.

Locally, the city of Athens is already taking advantage of the CNG vehicle’s benefits. Over the past several years, the City Council has opted to pursue a CNG program to combat fuel costs and decrease dependency on foreign fuel.

“We can complain about fuel prices and try to find ways to limit vehicle usage, which could lead to cuts in services to our citizens, or we can be proactive,” Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said in a statement in May 2012. “We have decided to be proactive and be green.”

The city currently owns two vehicles that run on compressed natural gas — a Honda Civic and a Dodge Ram pickup truck. The Civic reportedly gets 42 mpg while the truck is a hybrid that contains an 8-gallon fuel capacity. The next CNG the city will add is a garbage truck.

“The garbage truck is completely CNG,” said Carter. “A lot of county, city schools use CNG buses because of the savings. Birmingham uses a lot of CNG buses. I think there will be a lot more of them in the future. Especially fleets — they are good for that. FedEx uses a lot of CNG vehicles. They are especially big out West.”

In addition to the new garbage truck, which is expected to arrive in the next two weeks, Carter said the gas department plans on donating two Chevrolet Tahoe CNG vehicles to the Athens Police Department that will run on compressed natural gas.

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