NEW PORT RICHEY — Local efforts have stalled since late 2011 to convert or buy fleet vehicles, garbage trucks and school buses that can use alternative fuels.
With new tax exemptions and other incentives, however, a move to vehicles that use compressed natural gas could gain momentum.
State Sen. Wilton Simpson recently led a summit of Pasco County, school district and other community leaders on a compressed natural gas progress report. County Commissioner Henry Wilson, Superintendent of Schools Kurt Browning, Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Operations Ray Gadd and others were among those who attended.
Simpson, R-Trilby, guided legislation this spring that would suspend taxes on CNG fuel for the next five years. Lawmakers approved the bill.
A full tank of CNG would cost at least $1.50 less a gallon than other fuels, experts calculate.
“We are looking at having a basic feasibility study done by the end of October” on CNG stations and vehicles, Wilson said.
The study would estimate how many CNG fueling stations county government and the school district might need, Wilson said. The study would include recommendations for possible locations.
The stations could offer fast-fill CNG pumps, which take about the same time as filling a vehicle’s tank with gasoline, Wilson said. Slow-fill CNG pumps that take overnight to refill a tank, roughly eight hours, are an option.
The county and school district staffs would compile a list of how many CNG vehicles might be purchased in the near future. It’s more practical to buy new buses or trucks equipped for CNG fuel, Wilson has said.
“Sen. Simpson and myself are looking at this as an opportunity to bring manufacturing jobs here to Pasco with the reduction of cost and increased benefits to the business owner,” Wilson wrote in an email.
“We are trying to find ways to minimize taxpayer risk, by bringing in private dollars to pay for the station and with the recent legislation this might be a little easier,” Wilson wrote.
The area’s lone CNG fueling station is in Clearwater, said Rachel Perrin Rogers, Simpson’s chief legislative aide. The Florida Department of Agriculture has almost completed rules to implement the incentives in Simpson’s bill, Rogers said.
“Based on current projections they will begin taking applications for the incentive money for converted or natural gas vehicles right after the first of the year,” Rogers wrote in an email.
“We’re committed to the concept,” Gadd said, adding that progress probably will come in “small steps at first.”
State incentives could offset the extra cost of buying a new school bus outfitted for CNG fuel, Gadd said. The Pasco school district also is considering buses powered by propane.
The concept of a central CNG refueling station to serve Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties was discussed during a summit of area officials in December 2011, but no action has been taken.
Pasco Commissioner Henry Wilson and Pasco Republican State Committeeman Bill Bunting continue to wave the CNG banner. In April, Bunting publicly praised Simpson for promoting the use of natural gas to boost “energy independence.”
“The school system in Leon County has had its buses retrofitted to use natural gas several years ago,” Bunting wrote. “The buses will now get twice the engine life and reduce the cost of fuel by about 50 percent.”
Trash haulers, utilities and long-distance haulers in the state also have converted fleets, Bunting added.