City pursues natural gas fuel station

COVINGTON -- The city of Covington is moving forward with plans to open a compressed natural gas fueling facility.

The City Council recently authorized the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia and its consultants, Wise Gas, to assist with the first phase of the project. In addition, Don Francis, director of Clean Cities Atlanta, has committed to assist with the facility's design and solicitation of funding.

Utilities Director Bill Meecham said Covington is ideally situated for a natural gas fueling facility, as it is located halfway between Birmingham, Ala., and Columbia, S.C., and could be a fueling stop for motorists along Interstate 20.

The facility could be used by city vehicles and those of other local governments and agencies, as well as the general public, Meecham said. He said the facility could save the city a lot of money as more natural gas-fueled vehicles become available.

"You guys are on the cutting edge of something here," Scott Tolleson with MGAG told the City Council. Tolleson said about 15 other communities in Georgia are currently studying the possibility of natural gas fueling stations. The cost of a full-fledged station could run between $500,000 and $1.1 million, he said.

The challenge will be converting existing vehicles, which could cost between $8,000 and $12,000 per vehicle and as much as $40,000 for large vehicles like garbage trucks.

But the savings could be phenomenal, especially for those vehicles that run all day and are refueled every night. Tolleson said natural gas is running about $1 a gallon.

A consultant could determine what local businesses and entities would be willing to convert vehicles to determine if a fueling facility would be feasible.

"We're buying the first flat screen computers here is what it comes down to, buying a piece of equipment early on hoping it will catch on," Tolleson said.

General Motors is working on a natural gas-fueled pick up truck and Honda already produces a natural gas-fueled Civic.

"It's not putting all our eggs in one basket," said City Manager Steve Horton, adding ideally the city will have vehicles run by a variety of fuels, including natural gas, gasoline and ethanol.