DEP grants help buy natural gas vehicles

As part of a legislative effort to develop shale gas infrastructure, energy independence and environmental responsibility, the state has awarded grants to help two Blair County companies each buy 12 natural gas vehicles.

The Department of Environmental Protection has allocated $288,000 to Burgmeier’s Hauling for compressed natural gas trash trucks and $300,000 to Smith Transport for 12 liquefied natural gas vehicles.

The local money is part of a $6.7 million allocation from impact fees from gas operations that will fund 18 projects statewide, according to a DEP news release.

The money will cover the additional cost of buying the natural gas vehicles instead of conventional ones, according to DEP spokeswoman Lynda Rebarchak.

The grants will help Burgmeier’s begin a multi-million-dollar transition to natural gas power for its fleet, according to company Controller Steve Kasun.

It involves a soon-to-be-complete compressed natural gas filling station across Sixth Avenue Road from company headquarters, replacement of 12 diesel trucks with the 12 natural gas trucks this summer, plus replacement of similar-size batches of trucks for three additional years, according to Kasun.

The station and the first batch of replacement trucks are costing $5 million, he said, adding that the company hopes to recoup its costs for this part of the project in five to seven years.

Compressed natural gas is about 20 percent cheaper as a fuel than diesel, Kasun said, and is less volatile in price.

It results in lower pollutant emissions, equivalent to 335 cars for each of the company’s trucks, fitting for a firm that prides itself on its recycling, he said.

The trucks are also quieter, he said.

It will be a “slow fill” station, and it will serve only Burgmeier’s for now, according to Kasun. It could serve others eventually, if there’s enough demand and if Logan Township grants a permit for that conversion, Kasun said.

As a slow fill station, it will take six to eight hours for each truck plugged in at the station’s 22 nozzles. Each fill-up will give about 275 miles of driving. When drivers come off duty in the afternoon, they’ll hook up and walk away, Kasun said.

Compressors at the station take regular piped natural gas and bring it up to 4,500 psi, said Harry Gladfelter of regional business development manager Clean Energy, a California company that built the station for Burgmeier’s in exchange for payment as the gas is used.

The gas flows into the tanks of trucks until it brings them up to 3,600 psi each – with the gas flowing into the lower pressure ones first, he said.

The engines are diesel blocks, but with spark plugs and fuel injectors like a gasoline engine, he said.

They can run until there is about 500 pounds of pressure in the tanks, with a regulator feeding the gas to the engines at about 50 psi, he said.

Anticipating savings from the project, Burgmeier’s has already eliminated its fuel surcharge, beginning Jan. 1, Kasun said. That surcharge had peaked at $1.25 per household per month, he said.

The company is hoping eventually to reduce or eliminate the business fuel surcharge, he said.

The transition will require no special training for drivers, Burgmeier said.

The company won’t be able to wean itself completely off diesel, because of routes that take trucks too far from home base, Kasun said.

Smith Transport did not return a call for comment.

DEP also awarded grants to:

– Centre County Commissioners, $140,000 for purchase of 10 CNG vehicles;

– W.C. McQuaide Inc., Johnstown, $500,000 for purchase of 25 CNG trucks;

– Park’s Garbage Services, Mount Union, $335,000 for purchase of 15 CNG trash trucks.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.