City buys first natural gas-powered vehicle

City buys first natural gas-powered vehicle

COLUMBUS — The Columbus Public Works Department is testing a new van to determine whether compressed natural gas is the fuel of the future for some city vehicles.


Columbus City Council approved a purchase Monday night that replaces a 2005 Ford van used by employees to read water meters with a 2015 model that runs on the alternative fuel.

Chuck Sliva, the city’s water utilities supervisor, said the $21,746 purchase from Gene Steffy Ford of Columbus will be used as part of a pilot program that could lead to the introduction of more natural gas-powered vehicles in the future.

Although the van is the first vehicle of its kind within the city fleet, Sliva already sees several advantages over filling up with diesel or unleaded fuel.

Compressed natural gas burns cleaner, so it’s better for the atmosphere, he told the council.

At an average price of $2.10 per gallon, according to Sliva, it’s also significantly cheaper than regular unleaded or diesel, which cost an average of $2.80 and $3.76 per gallon, respectively, at Columbus stations, AAA reported Monday.

Sliva also expects the new van to travel farther on a gallon of fuel and last longer before a replacement is needed.

The vehicle is more expensive than a traditional model, but Sliva said the difference on the sticker price should be covered by savings over the first few years.

“We’re going to see what it does for us,” he said.

Because the meter-reading van doesn’t leave the city, it was the first vehicle selected for the transition.

Sliva said a lack of compressed natural gas stations in Nebraska makes it difficult to switch over vehicles used for long-distance travel.

Progressive Power, a partnership between Lincoln-based Stirk Compressed Natural Gas and Frontier Cooperative Co., opened a station last month offering the alternative fuel at the local Sapp Bros. Travel Center, making Columbus home to the first public compressed natural gas station in Nebraska outside Lincoln and Omaha.

City Administrator Joe Mangiamelli said city officials are also looking into the possibility of purchasing vehicles that run on compressed natural gas for Columbus Area Transit.

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