Construction Continues on Natural Gas Station

August 25, 2014

Hamilton Journal-News

Vivienne Machi

Hamilton’s compressed natural gas station continues to be on budget and on track to open by mid-October, according to officials.

The equipment pads were completed last week, and the equipment from ANGI Energy Systems was delivered to the site on Monday, according to Project Manager Mark Murray. The gas dryer, compressor housing, and storage vessels have been placed on the equipment pads, and dispensers will be set in place when the fueling islands are poured.

“The fact that we had everything far enough to be able to have that big equipment delivered was huge,” he said.

A unit price still needs to be set, but Murray said the city wishes to give residents, as the utility owners, the best price possible while still covering the costs of operating the station.

“We think we can come in lower than most of the regional stations such as Dayton and Columbus because our energy management team buys natural gas cheaper than anyone else,” Murray said. “It’s a fact that our residents pay the lowest natural gas rates in the state, so we hope to utilize those margins.”

The city is still on schedule to have substantial construction and landscaping completion by mid-September. Once a unit price per gallon equivalent is established and testing via the Butler County Auditor for proper weights and measures is done, the contractor, Columbus-based R.W Setterlin Building Company, is expected to turn the station over to the city in mid-October, Murray said.

The city is also currently on budget for the station and employee parking lot project: Of the $2.489 million total budget, the station’s portion is $1.83 million, $700,000 of which is coming from an Ohio Department of Transportation-administered Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant acquired through the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (OKI) Regional Council of Governments. Consideration for this grant was given because more CNG vehicles on the roads will lessen pollution and improve air quality in the region, Murray said.

Murray had no doubts about the safety of compressed natural gas, and said that the city plans to convert more vehicles to run on CNG.

The employee parking lot portion of the project is expected to hold 160 parking spots for City Municipal Garage employees. Murray said that all that remains is to pour the asphalt, but that the parking lot won’t open until the station is complete, so as not to delay construction on the station which is out front bordering Route 4.

“Originally, we purchased the property to put up an employee parking lot; the CNG station developed as an idea as we thought of ways to expand the market for our natural gas,” he said.

Murray said they did consider other energy alternatives along with compressed natural gas.

“We did consider charging stations for electric vehicles, but we knew we had a growing market for CNG and, of course, we are the gas utility,” he said. “Though we are also the electric utility, when we were looking at various grant opportunities, CNG seemed to be more attractive, so that created some sway. Ultimately, it was a management decision on the direction we took.”

Hamilton buys its natural gas on the market and it is transported to the city from two pipelines: Texas Gas and Texas Eastern Transmission will pump the gas from Oklahoma and Arkansas primarily, and Eastern Ohio secondarily, according to City Utilities Director Doug Childs.

Success in Columbus

The city sees encouragement as cities such as Columbus have had success with their CNG stations, having just completed a second station on Morse Road a few weeks ago, and are just beginning to design plans for a third station on the west side, according to Columbus Fleet Operations Manager Bill Burns.

“What they found at the city of Columbus’ Grove Road station – their first CNG station – is that 50 percent of what they sell is actually to the public,” Murray said. “Most of that is to trucking firms whose vehicles pass through the area, certainly, but they have customers – conservation-minded individuals who own CNG passenger vehicles - who plan their trips to hit the CNG stations along their route to fill their cars. Think of that; half of the CNG fuel Columbus sells is going into vehicles other than those operated by the City.”

Burns said that Columbus’ investment in compressed natural gas has “paid off well.” Columbus was voted the number-one greenest fleet in the nation in 2011 by the 100 Best Fleet Program, and this year received the number-one best fleet overall from that organization. Their natural gas is pumped from the Gulf of Mexico through the Columbia Pipeline.

He credits some of their success to the push to keep the stations running 24/7 to make it as easy for cross-country fleets as possible when they’re looking for a place to fuel up.

“We have not spent a dollar to advertise our stations besides putting up a website, and year-to-date, we have pumped almost 85,000 gallons of fuel just to retail,” Burns said. Sales to retail amounts to about 40 percent of their daily volume, he added.

Dublin has had a CNG station for several years, and Dayton and Findley have just opened public stations as well. In addition to building the Hamilton station, Setterlin built the Dublin and Columbus Morse Road stations.

Private development

Privately owned organizations have endorsed the station, as well. Marc Grubbs, new car inventory manager and business development manager for Performance Honda, 5760 Dixie Hwy., said that the dealership has been interested in selling CNG versions of the Honda Civic for two years, but were impeded by location restrictions.

“The biggest hurdle to a lot of dealerships is that you have to have a public filling station within 20 miles of the dealership,” he said. Currently, the closes Honda dealerships that are CNG-certified are in Indianapolis and in Columbus, he said.

“It will be great to have a dealership in the Cincinnati area,” he continued. “We really are happy that the station is in the range distance that we need (to become CNG-certified).”

Grubbs said that he thought that the reduced cost of natural gas will encourage buyers to opt for the CNG model.

“When you can buy natural gas at half the cost (of gasoline), that’s even better than a hybrid vehicle,” he said. Once the dealership has been certified to sell CNG models and technicians have been trained to work on the models, Grubbs says he hopes to sell as many of the vehicles as they possibly can.

“It’s going to be good for us and good for Hamilton,” he said.

Rumpke Waste and Recycling is in the process of converting its diesel fleet to natural gas. Jonathan Kissell, communications manager for the waste and recycling firm, said that currently 60 of their 2,000 vehicle fleet operate on compressed natural gas out of their Colerain Twp. headquarters.

He cited maintenance benefits, less mechanical downtime, and greater ease in meeting emissions standards with the CNG vehicles.

“We have a replacement schedule, where as older (diesel-run) trucks get decommissioned, we are looking at CNG trucks as the replacement trucks,” he said.

Rumpke runs its own CNG station, with gas generated from the Colerain Twp. landfill and pumped through Duke Energy lines, enabling it to be largely self-sustaining. But Kissell said the Hamilton station was an exciting prospect.

“It offers a back-up solution for our own fueling station,” he said. “There aren’t many fueling stations in Southwest Ohio, so having one in Hamilton would be good for us and other trucking companies running on CNG.”

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