The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 4, 2013

Clean machines

City opens 1st fast-fill CNG station on U.S. 31

By Holly Hollman
City of Athens

ATHENS — Athens residents are accustomed to seeing natural gas as a heating source in homes, but they are just beginning to see how the fuel works in the driveway as a clean fuel source for vehicles.

The city of Athens is doing its part to promote this cleaner, cheaper, domestic fuel.

On Wednesday, the Athens Gas Department invited the public to a Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting in celebration of its new compressed natural gas station.

This fast-fill CNG station, off U.S. 31 North near the Sportsplex property, not only services the city’s growing fleet of CNG vehicles, but also is open to the public. It is the only public CNG station on the Interstate 65 Corridor between Birmingham and Nashville.

Athens Gas Department Manager Steve Carter said the city is being progressive.

“This will save the City of Athens money in fuel and maintenance costs because compressed natural gas is cheaper than gasoline and diesel, and it is a cleaner fuel which means less maintenance,” Carter said. “In addition, the Athens Gas Department, Mayor Ronnie Marks and the Athens City Council are leading the way in North Alabama with regards to green energy and independence from foreign oil for the city’s energy needs.”

Carter said natural gas is an American product, and new drilling technology will ensure a continuous supply.

Mark Bentley, executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, agrees.

“Athens is a leader among Alabama’s local governments, incorporating compressed natural gas to help reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum,” Bentley said. “The advantages are clear. CNG costs significantly less at the pump than gasoline, it generates less air pollution and greenhouse gas so is better for the environment, and it is a domestically produced fuel supporting economic development and American jobs. The City of Athens benefits, the environment benefits and so do our state and country.”

Carter said the fast-fill CNG station cost $614,360 to construct, which was funded by Athens Gas. The Athens Gas Department also ran all underground gas and electric lines and fiber optic cable. Public Works did the concrete work.

The city also has two slow-fill stations that are not public that are used by the city’s larger fleet vehicles, such as garbage trucks. One slow-fill station is at Leak City, Athens Gas Department’s training facility on Sanderfer Road. The other slow-fill station is at Public Works on Elm Street.

“The day I filled up one of our CNG cars for less than $20 was a good day,” Mayor Ronnie Marks said.

The city has purchased both factory CNG vehicles and vehicles that have or are being converted.

This is a breakdown of the city’s CNG fleet:

• Three garbage trucks – one in use and two more ordered;

• Three Dodge 2500 pickup trucks that can run on both CNG or gasoline;

• One Honda Civic, owned by the Gas Department, which Mayor Marks and other employees use;

• One Chevrolet Tahoe for Athens Fire and Rescue that can run on CNG or gasoline;

• Four Chevrolet Tahoes for Athens Police Department that can run on CNG or gasoline.

“We will track our fuel and maintenance savings and use that savings to promote our fleet management program,” Marks said.

CNG vehicles typically have a 50-percent longer service life than gasoline and diesel vehicles.

“In the past, the city replaced worn out larger fleet vehicles when we could,” Marks said. “Our plan is to use money saved on fuel and maintenance to replace vehicles like garbage trucks before they get to the point that it is costing the city money to keep them patched up and on the road.”