COVINGTON -- The city of Covington is moving forward with plans to build a compressed natural gas fueling station.
On Monday, the City Council agreed to fund engineering on the project. Officials are considering locating the station on city-owned property across from Nisshinbo Drive on the east side of Ga. Highway 142.
"The estimate that we have for (engineering) the facility itself and the site work is approximately $30,000, per our consultant Wise Gas," said the city's grant writer, Randy Conner. "However, extensive engineering work will be required for Highway 142 because of the need for a deceleration lane and the desire to take into consideration GDOT's improvements to Highway 142 in the next five years. We plan to make our design compatible with the plans that GDOT has for highway improvements to avoid the negative impact on our site that those improvements may cause."
Engineering could be as much as $100,000 "because of the extensive engineering that will be required as we take into consideration our facility, and the new Covington Airport Terminal Building will be located at the Nisshinbo Drive and Highway 142 intersection. We need to make sure the area is designed properly to not only facilitate the proper development and easy access to these projects and Nisshinbo, but to also make the surrounding property more attractive to future industrial growth," he said.
The council reserved funds in the current budget to cover the expense of the engineering, Conner said.
The city is also considering conversion of a portion of its fleet to run on natural gas. Conner and Utilities Director Bill Meecham visited Snapping Shoals EMC recently to take a look at the company's natural gas fleet and watch vehicles being converted.
Snapping Shoals has used compressed natural gas since 1998 and currently has 25 vehicles that run on natural gas and is converting an additional 25. The cost to convert a lightweight vehicle to natural gas is about $8,200. Conner said the city could expect to recoup that cost once the vehicle has traveled about 50,000 miles.
It won't be long before more vehicles are capable of running on the cleaner, less expensive fuel, he said.
"I don't think it will be five years. It has become such a hot item, especially with the way fuel prices are going up," Conner said.
There is currently no federal grant money available to subsidize the cost of the project.
"I really don't see any hopes of any help from grants. There's just absolutely none. We've looked everywhere for it," Conner said.
A consultant with Wise Gas, a Florida-based company that provides consultation, fueling equipment and vehicle conversions to natural gas, previously told city officials that the city would need to invest about $1.9 million in equipment and site improvements to get the station up and running, with maintenance running about $80,000 a year.
Jeff Greene with Wise Gas said Covington is the ideal spot to open a compressed natural gas station, with its location along the I-20 corridor between Atlanta and the coast. Around 65,000 vehicles pass by Covington exits per day, including 18-wheelers with large fuel tanks that could utilize the station, he said.
"I think there is very substantial potential for additional revenue coming into the city down the road," Greene said.
If the station is used at full capacity of 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per day, the city could get $200,000 a month in revenue, Greene estimated.
After examining both the county and city fleets, Greene determined that the county has 86 vehicles and the city has 37 vehicles, for a total of 123 vehicles, that could be converted to run on natural gas. The county currently pays $338,000 in fuel costs, and the city spends $117,000 on those vehicles. Converting to compressed natural gas would reduce those totals to $236,00 for the county and $82,000 for the city, a yearly combined savings of $137,000, Greene said.
Natural gas typically runs about $1 cheaper at the pump. Sedan owners can save about $10 per fill-up, Greene said, adding that he runs through about 40 gallons of gas per week and saves about $60 per week.
The city could buy the gas even cheaper at the wholesale rate for its fleet.
Once more natural gas stations are in place, Conner predicted there will be more demand.
"When the fuel is there, then people will be interested in doing it. Right now, people are afraid because they've got that fuel anxiety. I'm going to travel out here, can I get back home?"
The Department of Energy has committed $300 million to building compressed natural gas stations throughout the country, according to the Wise Gas consultant, but right now most are being built on the West Coast.