Fort Mill considers natural gas for school buses

Special to the Fort Mill TimesJune 28, 2014 

— The Fort Mill School Board is considering a project that could lower the school district’s fuel and maintenance costs.

Board members discussed York County Natural Gas Authority’s Compressed Natural Gas Project, which aims to provide cleaner fuel, during their June 17 meeting.

Compressed Natural Gas costs about half of diesel. It is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that is drilled from natural gas wells and compressed to less than 1 percent of its volume, according to York County Natural Gas Authority’s website.

The switch to CNG could save the school district $20,318 a year per six buses, said board Chairman Patrick White.

A Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study funds projects that improve traffic efficiency and lower emissions within its study area, said David Hooper, RFATS coordinator. RFATS gets some of its funding through federal Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program grants.

The Charlotte region’s ground level ozone levels are too high under the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirement, Hooper said, so the agency designated the Charlotte region as a non-attainment area in 2004, making it eligible for CMAQ grants.

CMAQ provides non-attainment areas with funds for improvements that reduce emissions, Hooper said. While the Charlotte region hopes to work toward attainment for ground level ozone, Hooper said the process is long-term. Reducing vehicular emissions is one step toward that goal.

Municipalities can apply for CMAQ grants through RFATS. York County Natural Gas Authority has applied for a grant to fund the transition to Compressed Natural Gas.

On June 27, RFATS requested that the required air quality benefit analysis for the Compressed Natural Gas project be completed and submitted to the CMAQ subcommittee, which will consider a recommendation for the proposed project, Hooper said.

Out of $2,075,303 in federal funding, RFATS approved $944,722 for two existing intersection improvement projects, Hooper said. RFATS will discuss CMAQ’s recommendation and decide whether the remaining $1.1 million will be allocated to the Natural Gas project at its Sept. 26 meeting.

York County Natural Gas Authority is looking for input from the Fort Mill School District, Rock Hill School District, York County Council on Aging and the City of Rock Hill. Each partner has expressed interest in the Compressed Natural Gas project if it is approved by RFATS, said Tim Baldwin, vice president of Market Services.

“We believe this is a win for the county,” he said. “The goal is to reduce emissions and save operations costs for the entities involved.”

The partners would have a significant investment in the equipment needed to switch to Compressed Natural Gas, Baldwin said. If the grant is approved, it will fund approximately 27.1 percent of the cost of the project.

Switching to Compressed Natural Gas could save the Fort Mill School District $2.04 in fuel and maintenance costs per diesel gallon equivalent, White said. If each bus uses 1,660 gallons of diesel per year, that is a total savings of $3,386 a year.

During 20 years at the current diesel rate, the district would save $368,616 per six buses, White said.

The Fort Mill School District would see a payback on its investment in Compressed Natural Gas in less than two years, White said.

The board agreed to allow White to draft a letter to RFATS in support of the project given that it meets the financial projects, complies with safety requirements and the school board is able to get funding for the project once it is approved by RFATS.

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