CNG police car, courtesy of Clean Cities

Propane and Alternative-powered Police Cruisers Stretch Fuel Dollars, Go Fast

If you were pulled over for speeding by an officer driving a propane powered cruiser, I’m sure it wouldn’t make a difference.  There would still be muttering and maybe some cursing.

You’d probably never know the car was an renewable fuel vehicle, because the goal of a traffic stop–to me–is to never have to get out of the car.

However, for mayors and city managers who have to grapple with shrinking budgets alternative fuels like propane, CNG, LNG, bio, and others are one way to lower costs while ensuring consistent performance.  At last summer’s Green Fleet Conference, we had the chance to look at the best of this new technology, and the impact on government at the local, state and national level.

Last week, Clean Cities chapters in Chicago, South Shore (Northern Indiana), and Wisconsin came together to show representatives from 30 area law enforcement agencies how to increase fleet mileage through alternative fuels. The event, titled the “Police Alternative Fuel Summit”, gave representatives the opportunity to learn more about the technology, safety, logistics and funding of alternative fuels.

“As a bellwether state, there is plenty of evidence pointing to California as leading the way in the early adoption of alternative fuels. For well over 30 years they have migrated to alt fuels for both commercial and municipal use. In the Midwest, at a time when many municipal revenues are declining or flat at best, energy security has taken center stage. Attendees for the Police Summit were the kinds of people and agencies that are looking for strategic, real-world solutions while taking change head on.  Clearly, when it comes to alternative fuels, the train or rather bus, trucks, SUV’s, cars… have left the station,” said Lynn Stafford, Vice-president for Business Development at Stag USA.

 

Alternative fuel vehicles are commonly found in the general mix of local government fleets. Buses, trucks of all classes, fleet cars and other types.  Law enforcement vehicles are generally new to the game.  The Illinois EPA estimates that there are 38 police vehicles that use propane, statewide.

“We estimate that there are currently somewhere between 50 and 150 natural gas or propane alternative-fuel police vehicles in service in the three states. For example, the DeKalb County Sheriff office put 10 vehicles into service in 2014.  The Illinois State Police have some vehicles in use within the state university police system.  Lake in the Hills, Illinois just awarded a bid for several propane bi-fuel vehicles.  Downers Grove and Naperville have programs underway or just beginning.  In Wisconsin, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s department and the Port Washington Police department have alternative fuel programs.  In Indiana, the South Bend police department has taken delivery of over 35 vehicles and expects to take on a total of 70 vehicles by the end of 2015.  The Newton County (Indiana) prosecutor has five vehicles in service as well,”  said David Hagopian, Vice-president of Operations at Advanced VTech, an leading alternative fuel conversion shop.

 

Clean Cities estimates there are between 50 to 150 CNG or propane powered police vehicles in  Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.  Compare that to around 6,000 CNG and propane municipal vehicles in use in Wisconsin alone.  Clearly room for improvement.

Funding was an obvious concern at the Summit.  Alternative fuel programs are generally supported by federal and state initiatives.  Within Illinois, budget concerns and a new governor are changing the game.  One attendee shared that in the State of Illinois,  a rebate program for alternative fuels and vehicles was suspended and zeroed out for budget year 2016.

Clean Cities has a goal of displacing 2.5 billion gallons of petroleum per year from the transportation sector.  Although that may sound bold, they are just 17% away from achieving it.  Programs like the Police Alternative Fuel Summit do their part to help move local government farther down the path to adoption.

But as political fortunes shift and budget dollars get even tighter, it may become harder to set higher goals as well as maintain the status quo.

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Sebastian James

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