Alternative fueling stations increasing

Alternative fueling stations increasing

Passers-by might have seen the new gas station on Chili Avenue near Interstate 390 and paid it little

notice. But this is a station David Keefe and his colleagues have been waiting for.

This isn't your everyday fill'er-up spot. The station is not staffed but remotely monitored, and its only

fuel is compressed natural gas. It is only the second public station of its kind in the Greater Rochester

region, and the first with the capacity to service tractor trailers and straight trucks, officials said.

Those heavy-duty haulers are where the growth has been when it comes to the number of natural

gas vehicles on the road. Trash haulers including the city of Rochester, Monroe County, Waste

Management, Suburban Disposal and Casella Waste Systems all have natural gas trucks. Tops

Markets recently replaced its 55-truck fleet with natural gas trucks, and Wegmans confirmed last

week its plan to add 15 natural gas trucks to its Rochester fleet — based just down the road from the

new station.

"We talk about this chicken and egg syndrome," said Keefe, coordinator of Genesee Region Clean

Communities, a nonprofit affiliate of the U.S. Department of Energy, referring to which comes first

— the alternative fuel stations or vehicles. "I think this natural gas fueling station will create an

opportunity for expansion."

When it comes to alternative fuel vehicles, natural gas, electric and propane are the popular options

for this region.

Among New York counties, Monroe County has the fourth most electric vehicles on the road — 808,

according to the local Clean Communities group. The only other western New York county placing in

the Top 10 was Erie, with 640. Here, too, there is a question of supporting infrastructure, with the

Clean Communities group issuing a report in June that recommended new charging stations in

Batavia, Canandaigua, Geneseo and Victor. There currently are 27 charging stations in the nine-

county region with the most (16) being in Rochester, most of those installed by the city with grant


"There were no public stations in 2011," Keefe said of electric charging spots, though there was the

one natural gas station in Rush and a handful of E85 (ethanol blend) and maybe a propane station at

the time. "So, relatively speaking, we have come quite a ways. … Five years ago, you could not even

buy a (Nissan) LEAF or (Chevy) Volt."

Yet it is the alternative fuel vehicles that get the most credit for reductions in gasoline consumption

and greenhouse gas emissions, with compressed natural gas vehicles accounting for just more than

half the gallons of gasoline saved, according to a 2015 Clean Communities report. That same report

tabulates 130 compressed natural gas light- to heavy-duty fleet vehicles across the region.

American Natural Gas built and owns the new compressed natural gas station in Gates. Despite low

oil prices, ANG founder and CEO Drew West said the company has seen "exponential growth" in the

past 24 months.

ANG recently opened a station in Saratoga Springs, Saratoga County, where the company is based,

and plans to announce its sixth location in New York state later this year. The company has one

public station in the Buffalo area. The city has a total of five public compressed natural gas facilities

— the higher number credited in part to a proactive local utility.

"This business is really evolving, and a lot of companies are embracing it for the sustainability

component," West said. "We feel there is a tremendous network effect."

That gets back to the chicken and egg matter. More stations make intra- and interstate travel easier,

and there are sites (such as the DOE's Alternative Fuels Data Center) that allow travelers and

operators to plan their routes via available alternative fueling stations. Aiding that expansion: New

York state renewed excise and sales tax exemptions for alternative fuels through August 2021.

"I think people understand that oil is a cyclical business (with fluctuating prices)," West said —

whereas he can lock in compressed natural gas prices for five and even 10 years.

So why open a public station in Gates? While ANG has a number of over-the- road clients, that

Wegmans commitment is significant. Consider that each of those 15 trucks currently burns between

15,000 and 25,000 gallons of diesel per year.

"We invest in stations. These stations have a long life cycle," West said. "But we obviously took that

(Wegmans' plans) into consideration."

Only in the past couple of years have heavy truck operators been able to get vehicles with dedicated

natural gas rather than retrofitted engines. But the switch from diesel is expensive, with the trucks

alone priced $40,000 to $45,000 more than a standard diesel model, officials said. This is where

economies of scale come into play, and why companies, including many of those mentioned, build

their own on-site fueling station.

Erik Grimm is owner of Suburban Disposal, which has 14 natural gas trucks currently and plans to

add three more by the end of the month — totaling roughly 30 percent of the fleet. Like any

investment, diversification is important. And there is risk. Suburban spent more than $1 million to

build and open an on-site fueling station in 2012, which currently is managed by ANG. Diesel prices

were $4 a gallon at the time, but are about $2.20 today.

The fuel economy is roughly the same as conventional gas trucks on a gallon-equivalency basis,

according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And Grimm said it is yet to be seen how long the

engines last, and what maintenance is required in those later years. He also noted the retooling and

training that had to be done when it comes to maintenance and required certifications and

equipment. stations-


Share Button