The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 25, 2013

A loud reception for city’s quiet new garbage truck

By Jean Cole

— If the roar of an approaching garbage truck is what typically reminds you to slap on a bathrobe and rush your garbage cart to the curb, your life is about to get rougher.

The city of Athens just bought its first garbage truck that runs on compressed natural gas rather than on diesel. Although the gas-powered truck will lower the Sanitation Department’s annual fuel costs, it has one serious defect.

“You can’t hear it coming up the street,” Sanitation worker Jason Rolin said of the new garbage truck on display at Athens Police Department parking lot Monday afternoon.

Rolin drove the truck for the first time Monday and said it drives just like the other garbage trucks only much quieter.

The Athens Utilities Gas Department recently bought the truck for the Sanitation Department for about $264,000 “to help kick-start the city’s CNG program,” city spokeswoman Holly Hollman said.

The city already has two other CNG vehicles — a Honda Civic with a racing stripe driven by Mayor Ronnie Marks and a Dodge 2500 pickup truck driven by Gas Department Manager Steve Carter.

Sanitation Department Supervisor Earl Glaze, who pushed for the conversion to CNG, said CNG vehicles are cleaner and cheaper to operate. Where diesel fuel costs $3.85 to $4 per gallon, compressed natural gas costs $2 or less per gallon, he said. Using natural gas for combustion to propel the vehicle rather than diesel keeps the engine and its oil clean, Glaze said.

Refueling is not a quick as it is with diesel, but even that will be improving.

Currently, the city’s CNG vehicles gas up at the slow-fill station at Leak City, the Gas Department’s training site. However, a fast-fill CNG station under construction off U.S. 31, north of the Sportsplex, will eventually make refueling much quicker, Glaze said.

As the mayor, Glaze, Rolin and various reporters looked on Monday afternoon, Sanitation Supervisor Bernard Hammonds demonstrated how one refuels the new garbage truck. He opened a little door near the truck’s underbelly and pointed to a small opening for refueling hose that seems more like a plug in than a fuel tank. The CNG is not a liquid but, rather, a gas, so the fuel is stored on the roof of the garbage truck rather than in a gas tank like most trucks.

Although several people at the truck’s unveiling wondered if there was a smell associated with CNG, Rolin and Carter both swore there wasn’t.

Its only drawback seems to be its sneakiness.