Idea denied

Wapakoneta city officials rejected a proposal to convert the city’s fleet of vehicle to natural gas.

Wapakoneta City Council Utilities Committee members declined to give a favorable recommendation on a written proposal by Dennis Black with King Clean Energy LLC, of Tipp City, who provided documents showing the city would save thousands of dollars switching the city’s vehicles to natural gas from gasoline.

“After reviewing the proposal, we are not certain the advantages of migrating a portion of our municipal fleet to natural gas would exceed the costs or the shortfalls of doing so,” Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr. said after Wednesday’s Utilities Committee meeting he chaired. “After our discussion on the matter, it was the consensus of the committee to not pursue this matter any further at this time.”

The city fleet consists of approximately 75 vehicles, of which only 30 would be eligible for conversion to natural gas. Those vehicles would be in the Public Works Department and the Engineering Department.

Mayor Rodney Metz, Safety-Service Director Bill Rains and committee members agreed converting emergency vehicles in the fire, police, EMS and Electric departments would not be wise because of mutual aid agreements.

“We have mutual aid and reciprocal agreements with other communities and we cannot afford to send them into areas where we cannot guarantee they can be refueled,” Finkelmeier said, referring to sending Electric Department trucks to cities in need of help or fire and EMS to other municipalities. “Technology for natural gas vehicles has existed for some time, but it has not become widespread. While there may be some modest cost savings, Wapakoneta is not prepared to be the leader in this particular technology.”

The savings is based on the low price of natural gas, partly due to fracking, compared to crude oil and gasoline.

Black’s proposal said since the city is at the junction of Interstate 75 and U.S. 33 that it would benefit by attracting consumers from both major roadways. He also said businesses in the city as well as the bus fleet at Wapakoneta City Schools and the county fleet could benefit from natural gas.

He said the natural gas filling station could provide a revenue stream by charging more for natural gas.

He also said the city would benefit by saving nearly 60 percent on its fuel bill by replacing gasoline and diesel with natural gas. The savings would pay for the conversion of the vehicles in three years.

Councilor-at-large Randy Fisher said while he favors clean fuels he questioned the wisdom of this move at this time.

“I am in favor of looking for more environmentally friendly ways for our vehicles to operate, I am all for saving money, but I just don’t see this is worthy of any further discussion,” Fisher said. “I know I am only one vote, but that is the way I feel.”

Metz voiced several concerns with a natural gas fleet.

For the city to send Electric Department crews to other cities in Ohio and outside the state after a natural disaster, city administrators would have to send a fueling vehicle to enable them to make the trip and operate there.

Safety-services have mutual aid agreements with other municipalities in the county and fueling could become an issue.

Metz said they often move vehicles between departments and he believed the cost for converting the vehicles back and forth between natural gas and gasoline would be prohibitive.

He also said they have a licensed mechanic on staff who can work on gasoline combustible engines, but he is not licensed for natural gas vehicles.

The mayor also said many of the vehicles are auctioned to the public at the end of their life and this money would not be realized since the public would likely not have access to a natural gas refueling depot.

“I would question the feasibility of the conversion — I think it would be too expensive,” Metz said. “I also have concerns regarding how this would affect the motor vehicle gas tax and where the money would come from to repair the roads without this revenue stream, but despite all of this I would still be willing to look into it further if the committee and the residents of the city would like me to do so.”