Covington first in state to build public CNG station

COVINGTON - Covington will be the first city in Georgia to build a public access compressed natural gas station and will likely be used as a model for similar facilities throughout the state.

The Covington City Council awarded the construction bid of more than $1.6 million at its July 15 meeting, and the facility is expected to open in April 2014.

"It is the first city to build a public access station. A few other cities are right behind them," said Scott Tolleson, manager of member services for the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia.

MGAG has set aside $5 million to help its members get such projects off the ground. Covington was the first to qualify for a low interest loan to fund construction.

"I have to give (Covington's grant writer, Randy Conner) all the credit," Tolleson said, adding that Conner has traveled to CNG stations all over the Southeast while researching the project.

"We want to leverage his knowledge and make sure that we use Covington as a model," he said.

There is an increasing demand for CNG stations, with companies like UPS, FedEx and AT&T operating portions of their fleets off compressed natural gas. Locally, Snapping Shoals EMC has a CNG station for its fleet.

There are currently about 20 public access CNG stations in Georgia and most are inside the perimeter, Tolleson said. MGAG's goal is to have CNG stations along most major intersections outside the perimeter.

The closest station to Covington on the east side of Atlanta is at Evans Mill Road, he said. There's another off Mountain Industrial Blvd. and one under construction in Warner Robins.

Tolleson said long haul traffic, like the UPS and FedEx fleets, will likely be the primary users, but eventually that will extend to local users. the city will convert or replace some of its fleet, such as police cars, garbage and service trucks, to CNG.

But the option will be available to more than just commercial and government fleets. Honda and General Motors are among the automotive companies that currently manufacture CNG or bi-fuel vehicles, those that transition between CNG and gasoline.

Tolleson drives a bi-fuel vehicle and said he pays $2.39 a gallon at the pump. In addition to cost savings, the other benefit is that the fuel is all domestic, he said.

Information on the price of fuel at the Covington facility could not be obtained for this article.

MGAG will receive a certain amount per gallon sold at the four-pump facility. Although city officials have said that would be a nickel per gallon, Tolleson said that's negotiable and has not been finalized yet. He said MGAG is not looking to make a profit but to get payback on its loan.