Government fleets are continuing to embrace natural gas as an alternative fuel as evidenced by recent actions in Pennsylvania, New York City and Denver, and the trucking industry at a recent national summit meeting did the same.

With the Marcellus Shale as a continuing stimulus, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) started accepting applications this month for its natural gas vehicle (NGV) grant program, which is providing $20 million during the next three years to help pay for the incremental and conversion costs of heavy-duty NGV fleet vehicles.

Earlier this year DEP launched an NGV website to help public- and private-sector fleet operators decide if they want to convert part or all of their operations to NGVs (see Daily GPI, June 7). The website offers information on both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) options following Pennsylvania’s new state law (Act 13), passed earlier this year, which authorized DEP to establish the NGV grant program.

Applications for the 2013 grants are due by Feb. 1, and DEP said that up to $10 million will be available for the first year, followed by $7.5 million in 2014 and $2.5 million the last year, 2015. Awards for the first year will be made in late March, DEP said. Grants are being capped at 50% of the incremental purchase or retrofit cost per vehicle with a maximum grant of $25,000/vehicle.

Elsewhere, Canada-based New Flyer Industries said it was supplying 74 CNG buses to the New York City Transit Authority, picking up a contract that Daimler Orion once held but abandoned after it discontinued the Orion brand buses earlier this year. New Flyer said it has an option for an additional 30 buses that were not in the original Orion contract. New Flyer buses have 8.9-liter ISL G engines from Cummins Westport, with Type IV all-composite CNG fuel tanks made by Lincoln Composites.

In the West, Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) marked a 5 million mile milestone in the operation of CNG hybrid buses on the downtown 16th Street Mall. The combination natural gas and electric buses with 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Ford engines have now logged more than 5 million miles and carried more than 200 million passengers as a free mall bus service provided by the RTD.

Separately at the American Trucking Association’s recent summit on NGVs, Freightliner Trucks said it was making available for test drives five of its new Cascadia 113 CNG-powered tractors featuring the new Cummins Westport ISX12 G heavy-duty natural gas engine. The trucks will have Allison 4000HS transmissions and the fuel tank capacity equivalent to 115 diesel gallons of CNG.

Noting that NGVs can result in significant fuel cost savings for truck fleet operators, Freightliner’s TJ Reed, director of product strategy, said the tests of the new Cascadia 113 will allow prospective customers to “experience first hand the performance and efficiency of an alternative fuel solution.”

In Pennsylvania, DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said he hoped the combination of technology advances and the state grant money will help “wean our country from its dependence on foreign oil for transportation fuel.” Krancer said Act 13 is helping put an emphasis on the state’s own abundant supplies of natural gas.

“The next step [in this year’s push] was our standing-room-only seminars hosted by DEP during the past few months to educate the public about the grant program and converting vehicle fleets to run on natural gas. Now our grant program will provide funding for local governments, schools, businesses to land lower operational costs, lessen dependency on foreign oil, and clean the air all at the same time.”

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