Another historic marker for Northwest Arkansas

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 151 views 

It may just initially be two trucks from a municipal water department, but the move this past week by Springdale officials toward acquiring and testing utility vehicles powered by compressed natural gas is likely to be an historical marker for alternative energy use in Northwest Arkansas.

Springdale Water Utilities officials announced July 16 a plan to buy two CNG-powered trucks as part of a pilot program to determine whether cost savings can be accomplished by converting more of the utility's more than 70 vehicle to reliance on the alternative fuel. The utility is the first public entity in Northwest Arkansas to try CNG.

Supporting the decision by the first public entity in Northwest Arkansas is $800,000 in rebates to convenience store operator Kum & Go for CNG stations at two Springdale stores. The rebates are from the Arkansas Energy Office, a division of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Until the Kum & Go CNG pumps are completed, CNG isn't available in Northwest Arkansas. CNG stations are operating in Conway, Damascus, Fort Smith, Jonesboro Little Rock, and North Little Rock. A station is being developed in West Memphis, and Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corp. is working on its second station in Fort Smith. The first AOG station in Fort Smith was the first public CNG station in Arkansas, and it opened to the public in April 2011.

CNG use is rising, and with tremendous reserves of inexpensive natural gas in the United States, the clean-burning fuel is the most viable, simple and near-term path to American energy independence. American Presidents since Richard Nixon have promised elaborate domestic and foreign policy plans to achieve energy independence. Not only did none of the plans come close to independence, but they were always more about special interests than pursuit of a rational energy policy that also benefited energy research and development, jobs and retained American dollars within the American economy.

The upside of natural gas is that we don’t need expansive or expensive state or federal programs to allow the energy to be a primary factor in achieving energy independence. In fact, it may be that we need government to get out of the way, and simply ensure common sense environmental protections related to energy exploration, production and distribution.

CNG pump numbers are rising at fuel stations around the country. That’s an important step toward broader use of CNG. Daniel Akerson, the former chairman & CEO of General Motors, spoke about the importance of CNG access.

"Think about it. Go back 20 or 30 years ago. Diesel wasn’t very ubiquitous in this country. Forty percent of our gas stations today nationally have diesel in them. If 40 percent of them had a compressed natural gas station, think of the impact that would have in our foreign currency deficits, our trade deficits. The impact it would have on our environment,” Akerson is quoted by NGVAmerica.

And according to NGVAmerica, CNG acceptance is growing but we have a long way to go. There are about 142,000 NGVs (primarily CNG vehicles) on U.S. roads, but there are more than 15.2 million NGVs on the roads worldwide.

Following are other key points from NGVAmerica.
• There are about 1,325 NGV fueling stations in the U.S., and refueling appliances are available for home use.

• In the U.S., about 50 different manufacturers produce 100 models of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles and engines.

• Natural gas costs from $1.50 to $2 less per gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE).

• In the U.S. alone, NGVs offset the use of about 400 million gallons of gasoline in 2013.

• Natural gas vehicles typically cost more than gasoline or diesel vehicles. But these vehicles consume enough fuel for owners and operators to see a pay back in as little as 18–24 months. As the price of fuel tanks comes down, light-duty passenger vehicles will become less expensive and also will enjoy a shorter payback period.

• About one-fifth of all transit buses were run by compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquid natural gas (LNG) in 2012. Currently, transit buses are the largest users of natural gas for vehicles. The fastest growing NGV segment is waste collection and transfer vehicles. Almost 50% of the trash trucks purchased in 2012 are powered by natural gas.

With its solid economy, per capita income levels and significant access to capital, Northwest Arkansas could be a regional leader among U.S. metro areas in terms of CNG use. The Northwest Arkansas Council in April last year approved a new strategic action focused on informing public entities and private companies about the cost-saving advantages provided by CNG. It is the only strategic action item added following the early 2011 rollout of the Council’s overall action plan.

Northwest Arkansas may have been slow to the movement, but we agree with Springdale Water Utility Executive Director Heath Ward that the region has the potential to move fast.

“I think the possibilities are great and others will follow our lead,” Ward said of the decision to buy two CNG vehicles.