Centre County officials pass grant applications for more natural gas vehicles

On the heels of passing a resolution to convert its first round of vehicles to compressed natural gas fuel, Centre County officials already are looking for more.

The Board of Commissioners unanimously passed grant applications to expand the program and bring the possible number of CNG vehicles in the transportation fleet to 12. The latest grant application is in partnership with the Centre Area Transportation Authority, State College and Penn State.

The board also passed an agreement with CATA to use its fueling station. The county will pay CATA the price of the fuel plus a 25-cent per-gallon equivalent fee in the first year and 30-cent per-gallon fee in the second of the two-year contract. It begins at the time of the first fueling, and there are no minimum or maximum usage requirements.

Commissioner Chris Exarchos said it will be a good stopgap until another, permanent fuel source comes. Though some entities have shown interest, there is nothing concrete.

“We’re exploring some possibilities of partnering up with public and private entities to look at some additional fueling opportunities within the county,” he said. “That’s still a work in progress.”

Officials may also look for opportunities to install low-density slow-fill stations at the Willowbank Building or county prison. The machines take several hours to fill the vehicles but are much cheaper to install.

The county expects to hear about the latest grant in the spring and will look at other possibilities for state funding, Assistant Planning Director Sue Hannegan said. Additional information for grant funding for smaller vehicles will be announced in March, she added.

The first batch of four transportation vehicles that the board approved last week should be ready for the road by mid-April, Transportation Director Dave Lomision said. Each group of conversions will cost the county about $52,000 if the grants are approved.

Those vehicles will be used for the county’s transportation programs, including for elderly residents.

Commissioners Chairman Steve Dershem said he is excited for the opportunity to continue to convert more vehicles and insert them into the fleet. He said he will be interested to see how much less wear and tear occurs with the cleaner-burning engines.

He added that partnering with CATA will be beneficial because their buses already use CNG fuel and the organization has years of experience with the newer energy source.

“We’re going to see some significant savings and certainly CATA has led the charge on how to facilitate those savings,” he said.