Switch to compressed natural gas shifts into gear across Centre County

As buses, garbage trucks and other public vehicles continue to belch out clouds of diesel and gasoline fumes, the Centre Region is working on a solution that’s more natural.

Natural gas, that is. Specifically, compressed natural gas.

According to representatives who spoke to Centre County commissioners and the Centre Region Council of Governments on Tuesday, several vehicles used by the county, including refuse trucks and transportation vans, will soon run on CNG. They will join a fleet of vehicles in the region already using the alternative fuel.

The Centre County Board of Commissioners approved a grant agreement Tuesday between the county and the state Department of Transportation for the purchase of six vans, all of which will be converted to run on 100 percent CNG.

David Lomision, director of the Centre County Office of Transportation, said the office already has four vehicles that run on CNG, bringing the total to 10. With an average of 20 vehicles on the road any day, half will use the compressed fuel.

The vans are purchased through the normal chain of purchase through the state, he said, and converted to CNG afterward. Purchasing vehicles that already use the fuel isn’t an option yet, but he expects them to be offered next year.

Meanwhile, at an executive meeting Tuesday, COG Regional Refuse and Recycling Program Administrator Pam Adams described a program contract that would replace five diesel-running garbage trucks and five recycling trucks with CNG-friendly vehicles.

The contract bid, which will be put to a vote during the COG General Forum meeting Monday, was recommended by the Public Services and Environmental Committee, Adams said, and would save $14.16 over the next five years.

When the trucks will be replaced, she said, depends on when a new fueling station is constructed at the county Recycling and Refuse Authority — a plan already in action.

County representatives were interested in converting some vehicles to CNG, authority Executive Director Ted Onufrak said, but the only places to refuel are at the Centre Area Transportation Authorty bus depot and the adjacent Uni-Mart.

CATA buses have been running on CNG since 1994, CATA marketing manager Jackie Sheader said, with the entire fleet converted in 2005.

The refuse authority put out requests to have a filling station constructed with no use of public funds, Onufrak said. Their call was heard by Clean Energy, a natural gas fueling company based in California.

Onufrak said that if things go smoothly, a CNG station could be open by April.

Even Penn State is getting into the compressed gas game.

University transportation Director Rob DeMayo said he’s delighted to have two CNG shuttle buses running on campus, put into service a week ago. Parking enforcement uses compressed gas-running Honda Civics, fueled by a CNG station at the physical plant garage.