Transit company may power buses on alternative fuel

Mesa County is looking to get behind the wheel of the next big thing.

Grand Valley Transit, the valley’s public transportation provider, is in the process of buying two buses.

Last week, the Mesa County Commission urged Grand Valley Transit to look into the feasibility of having the new buses run on compressed natural gas.

“We are all for it,” said Todd Hollenbeck, manager of the Regional Transportation Planning Office, which oversees Grand Valley Transit’s operations.

The commission approved spending $156,000 of county taxpayer money to go with a $624,000 federal grant to purchase two 30-foot-long buses. Grand Valley Transit does not anticipate taking delivery of the buses for another year.

The city of Grand Junction is also looking at the possibility of using compressed natural gas in its fleet of trash trucks.

“It makes all the sense in the world to go to CNG for trash trucks if we can put in the fuelling system,” said Terry Franklin, deputy director of utilities and street systems for the city.

The city wants to tap into natural gas emitted at Persigo Wastewater treatment plant to fuel those trucks. The city plans to purchase four new trash trucks and, like Grand Valley Transit, is studying the possibility of making them natural gas compatible.

Franklin said natural gas trucks can be as inexpensive as diesel trucks if manufacturers receive federal government discounts.

He said if the city proceeds with natural gas trash trucks, it would take about 25 years to pay for the infrastructure needed to keep the trucks running. But once that is built, the compressed natural gas would practically be free.

Natural gas is abundant, burns cleaner than traditional fossil fuels and is much less expensive than gasoline.

Drawbacks include reduced mileage compared to modern diesel engines and less
performance at higher altitudes. Also, there are safety concerns when using a flammable gas that is lighter than air. In order to use compressed natural gas, city and county maintenance shops would need to be updated. Mechanics would need training, and new tanks for storage would need to be installed unless more compressed natural gas stations are built in the valley.

“You hate to purchase buses if you don’t have the infrastructure to support them,” Hollenbeck said.

There is one natural gas station in Grand Junction, and more may be on the way. The state is launching a $27.6 million campaign to possibly build several such stations between Grand Junction and Denver. The plan includes three stations in Grand Junction: two on Mesa County property and a third on city property.

Lack of needed infrastructure — such as fueling tanks, delivery system, maintenance garages — was one reason the Regional Transportation District in Denver rejected compressed natural gas a few years back, said Dean Shaklee, general superintendent of maintenance for RTD.


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