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County adds propane to alternative fuel list

Kenny Kemp
Matt Thomas, in charge of the alternate fuel vehicle program for the Kanawha County Commission, inspects the apparatus used to fill one of the county's alternate-fueled vehicles with compressed natural gas. A Ford F-150 that runs on propane is in the background.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County officials have another, cheaper fuel source at their disposal with the purchase of a propane-powered pickup truck.County and local officials showed off the new Ford F-150 truck at an informal press conference Wednesday."It's very exciting for us to be on the cutting edge of emerging technology," said Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy. "I think this is a snapshot of the future."Hardy and County Commissioners Kent Carper and Hoppy Shores recently approved buying three alternative fuel vehicles in a pilot project designed to wean the county's vehicle fleet away from oil-dependent gasoline.Two of the vehicles are powered by compressed natural gas, or CNG, while the new F-150 runs on propane. All three vehicles also will run on regular gasoline.It costs about $10,000 to convert a car or truck to run on propane or natural gas, but the cost is made up in fuel savings. With gasoline running near $4 a gallon, the equivalent amount of natural gas or propane is averaging around $2 a gallon. Phil Pfister, spokesman for Chesapeake Energy Corp. said Chesapeake has already converted nearly half of the company's 5,000 vehicles to run on natural gas.County officials said the biggest drawback to natural gas or propane-powered vehicles is finding a fueling station. But Matt Thomas, in charge of the alternative fuel program for the Kanawha County Commission, said a propane fueling station already is open at the One Stop on the corner of Florida Street and Kanawha Boulevard West in Charleston.T.J. Meadows, state business manager for CNG Services, said construction is expected to start in a few weeks on a CNG fueling station at Foodland on Spring Street.
County officials also have added a natural gas fueling port to the Kanawha County Courthouse. That station will fill a CNG-powered vehicle in about 12 hours, while a quick-fill station like that being built at Foodland will fill up a car as fast as a gasoline pump.Carper and other county and state officials are convinced that natural gas technology can become a cash cow for West Virginia, which sits atop vast gas reserves. "Natural gas is a West Virginia product," said Hardy. "Oil isn't."Although 75 percent of the propane sold in West Virginia comes from outside the state, Carper believes that percentage will drop as more and more state entrepreneurs jump on the alternative-fuel bandwagon.Thomas said natural gas and propane-powered vehicles get mileage nearly as good as gasoline, while burning cleaner and costing less.Eventually, the county could run half of its vehicles on alternative fuel sources. County officials are experimenting to see if there is a clear advantage to natural gas or propane, or if both types of vehicles have their place in the fleet."We want to try it out and see," Thomas said.Federal and state officials pushed natural gas-powered vehicles about 20 years ago, but the idea fizzled when gasoline prices dropped. But the technology was more expensive and less efficient then.
Carper and Hardy believe alternate fuels are more attractive now than they were 20 years ago.Reach Rusty Marks at or 304-348-1215.
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