RFTA buses will run on compressed natural gas | AspenTimes.com
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RFTA buses will run on compressed natural gas

CARBONDALE – About one-third of the Roaring Fork Valley’s public bus fleet will run on compressed natural gas by fall 2013.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors voted unanimously Thursday to spend $16.51 million to buy 22 buses that run on the alternative fuel and to install the infrastructure to fill and maintain them.

Nearly half of the price will be covered from a grant by the Federal Transit Administration. It awarded $7.8 million to RFTA to purchase buses that run on clean diesel fuel. Those funds can be applied to buses fitted with different engines for compressed natural gas. RFTA also scored a $365,000 “community investment grant” from Encana, the oil and gas industry giant.

The grants combined cover $8.35 million of the project. To pay off the remainder, RFTA applied for and received $6.7 million in low-interest bonds through the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office. The final $1.64 million will be covered through RFTA’s sales tax bonding authority and applications for other grants.

The partial conversion will occur when RFTA expands its service through a bus rapid transit project scheduled to be completed in September 2013. That project will add more direct service between Aspen and points downvalley. New and vastly improved bus stations will be constructed, and stoplights will be fitted with hardware that provides favorable light cycles to buses. Eighteen buses that RFTA will buy for the expanded service will be ordered with engines that run off compressed natural gas. Another four buses that run on the alternative fuel will be purchased to replace existing buses.

In addition, the project will include installing a natural gas fueling station in Glenwood Springs and modifying RFTA’s shop in Glenwood to make it safe to work on compressed natural gas.

“It looks like this is a seismic shift in how we move people around the valley,” said John Wilkinson, a Snowmass Village councilman and member of RFTA’s board.

Wilkinson, as well as the representatives of Aspen, Pitkin County, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle and Eagle County, voted for the compressed natural gas project.

The biggest selling point was the favorable price of the alternative fuel. RFTA spent about $650,000 more on diesel fuel for its buses in 2011 than in 2009 because of the skyrocketing price of fuel, Blankenship said. With costs continuing to rise, the cost this year will be about $1 million more than in 2009, he said. Natural gas prices recently hit a 10-year low, so compressed natural gas is significantly cheaper.

RFTA staff’s analysis figured that the 22 buses the agency is ordering would go through 372,624 gallons of diesel fuel in a year. At an estimated cost of $3.73 per gallon, that would total a fuel expenditure of $1.39 million.

The cost of running those 22 buses on compressed natural gas for a year would be about $694,142, even with operation and maintenance costs of the new infrastructure thrown in, the staff analysis showed. So RFTA will have $695,746 in annual fuel savings to help pay off its investment, Blankenship said.

RFTA is spurring competition to get the best possible price for compressed natural gas. It has invited vendors to bid on contracts to supply fuel.

Even with the purchase of 22 buses operating on compressed natural gas, about two-thirds of RFTA’s fleet will still use diesel fuel. Blankenship said the next significant replacement of buses isn’t planned for another eight years.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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