Little Rock Taking Lead in Switch to CNG (Bruce Moore Commentary)

Your business may be one of many nearing the completion of the first quarter of 2014. You’ve been working through new budgets, new strategies to boost bottom lines and new opportunities for innovation. This first quarter and in particular the month of March mean new cost savings for the city of Little Rock as it opens its first city-owned and operated compressed natural gas fueling station.

Commonly known as CNG, compressed natural gas burns the cleanest of all fossil fuels, and it is found here in Arkansas. I’m excited about the opportunity this new station affords us. This station will meet the demands of not only the city’s growing CNG fleet, but also the needs of private citizens and companies, as well as public and government agencies. It will have the capacity to service vehicles and fleets regardless of size, and it will contain a fast-fill compressor allowing a 100-gallon tank to fill in 10 minutes or less.

In addition to providing an economic green fuel alternative, one of the biggest advantages for the city’s CNG station is location. The facility is situated close to the Interstate 30 river bridge at 823 E. 9th St., offering convenient, easy access to national fleets that use CNG. I believe this is a major selling tool as Little Rock and the state recruit businesses to central Arkansas.

This isn’t just a bandwagon we’re getting on. It’s a smart move we’re making. The city’s goal is to see a 20 percent increase of CNG vehicles in the city’s fleet through the conversion and purchase of CNG vehicles during the next 18 months. This will ultimately reduce the city’s fuel budget by $200,000 during the same period.

One of my main priorities as city manager is ensuring that the city of Little Rock is a good steward of the tax revenue collected from our citizens, and city staff is always examining new technologies to reduce cost. In 2011, Wendell Jones, Fleet Services Department director, initiated the idea of a city-owned CNG station. After analyzing the data, city staff determined that this was the right move to make, not just for the community but for private companies with CNG fleets and other companies that might be considering the idea of CNG conversion.

The city of Little Rock has invested $1 million and expects to see a return on that investment within three to five years. The Arkansas Energy Office, a division of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Southwestern Energy have also assisted with this project. The Arkansas Energy Office awarded the city $235,000 from the Senate General Improvement Fund and the Oil Overcharge Fund, and Southwestern Energy contributed $100,000 toward site construction.

For those companies exploring a switch to CNG, the rising price of diesel fuel makes the case for switching that much stronger. Compressed natural gas often costs up to 50 percent less than diesel fuel. The current price-per-gallon equivalency to diesel averages about $1.35.

Aside from the obvious cost savings, using CNG is better for the environment. Carbon monoxide emissions are reduced by about 80 percent in CNG-powered vehicles compared with gasoline-powered vehicles, which makes it easier to meet emissions standards. CNG also produces fewer greenhouse gases than diesel and gasoline.

Natural gas is projected to continue to grow in every U.S. energy sector — residential, commercial, industrial and power generation. Natural Gas Vehicles for America, a trade association dedicated to developing growing and sustainable American markets for vehicles powered by alternative fuels, reports there are currently about 135,000 natural gas vehicles on the road in the U.S., up from about 118,000 in 2011. CNG fleets and conversion rates are also expected to grow at 300 percent every year for the next 10 years. Frito-Lay North America Inc., General Mills and Procter & Gamble Co. are among the companies expanding their natural gas fleets. Trucking companies such as Ryder System Inc. are also increasing their natural gas vehicles.

The city of Little Rock is excited about the future of cleaner energy, lower costs and the ability to provide this opportunity to individuals and private companies. It’s time that more Arkansas companies seriously consider the switch to CNG. It’s a great bandwagon to be on.

Bruce T. Moore is the Little Rock city manager, a post he has held since Dec. 17, 2002. He can be reached at CityManager@LittleRock.org. Little Rock’s CNG station is scheduled to open on Thursday. The opening of Little Rock's CNG station has been postponed.