City exploring natural gas options

Published 9:47 am Friday, March 29, 2013

City of Bainbridge officials have discussed expanding its sales of natural gas for energy, while at the same time looking into using natural gas to power some of the city’s larger vehicles.

Speaking at the Bainbridge City Council’s recent annual retreat, Bainbridge Public Services Division Director Steve Winburn expressed concern that the city’s natural gas fund was slowly losing equity.

It had a peak of $4 million in 2006, but had dropped to a little more than $3 million by 2012.

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The city’s gas department participates in the installation, repair, testing, and maintenance of natural gas lines, components, and meters. To encourage consumers to make use of the city’s natural gas service, the city offers rebates on stoves and other appliances that can use it.

In general, gas-burning appliances are considered both cost-efficient and energy-efficient. In fact, some of the city’s commercial customers include local schools, Memorial Hospital, several agricultural crop dryers and several companies in the Commodore Decatur Industrial Park.

Winburn suggested that if the city wanted to remain in the natural gas utility business, leaders needed to put more thought into how the natural gas infrastructure could be expanded to potentially serve more customers.

One potential customer, according to Winburn, are the approximately 27 chicken houses that are located within a seven-mile radius of Bainbridge city limits. The optimal growing temperature inside a chicken house is 94 degrees Fahrenheit, something that natural gas space heating could help with because it is a stable, always-on form of energy.

Mayor Edward Reynolds, who said he paid to have natural gas service extended to his home on Douglas Drive, talked about his personal energy savings and said he would like to see the city’s services marketed better.

Giving an example, Reynolds said he was personally grateful that the tankless water heaters he installed in his home — which are powered by natural gas — prevent his household of five people from running out of hot water for bathing.

Reynolds lamented that when subdivisions off Lake Douglas Road and others outside the center of Bainbridge were being developed, it wasn’t practical for natural gas lines to be extended there. Reynolds said he would like for city leaders to study whether natural gas lines could be strategically extended into newer areas of the city and, hopefully, expand the city’s customer base.

“I think we need to educate people better on the benefits of natural gas, as well as the safety of using it,” Reynolds said.


Natural gas for garbage trucks?

Winburn said the city of Bainbridge also has an opportunity to save on fuel costs for its vehicle fleet by purchasing vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, as older vehicles are retired.

Talking specifically about garbage trucks, where he believes the greatest fuel savings could be realized, Winburn quoted some figures. Although the city is preparing to build a garbage transfer station off Avenue C, currently city garbage trucks have to make the 27-mile round trip to the county landfill near Attapulgus on a near-daily basis.

Winburn used a round figure of 10 trucks for an example — the city has about 15 total — that get around four miles to a gallon of gasoline and travel an average of 17,000 miles per year. Considering that diesel fuel costs around $4 per gallon and compressed natural gas costs around $1 wholesale for the equivalent of a gallon of gas, Winburn said the city could see a fuel savings of $121,500 per year.

Although trucks that use compressed natural gas cost about $10,000-$20,000 more than diesel vehicles, largely due to high demand, the city could still expect to have that premium paid off within about 1.66 years, WInburn said. The average lifespan of a garbage truck is about seven years.

There are currently about 900 compressed natural gas pumping stations in the United States, however, Georgia only has five, all located in metro Atlanta. The nearest station to Bainbridge is in Tallahassee, Fla. That means that if the city of Bainbridge were to purchase natural gas vehicles, it would probably have to partner with a private company to build the pumping station.

Winburn said the private company would benefit by being able to sell CNG not only to the city but to a number of other businesses, since standard 18-wheel trucks — though not container trucks — can also be run on compressed natural gas.

Councilwoman Glennie Bench is an executive with Southwest Georgia Oil Company, which in addition to running a chain of gas stations in Alabama, also has its own biodiesel production facility in Bainbridge. Although Bench would likely have to recuse herself from a related council vote, she said her company would be interested in exploring the feasibility of a CNG pumping station in Bainbridge.