Tomblin Wants Green State Fleet

WHEELING – A school bus powered by propane visited downtown Wheeling Friday as West Virginia officials considered alternative fuel options for state-owned vehicles.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin presided over the Governor’s Natural Gas Task Force meeting at the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce office.

The task force has been charged with assessing the feasibility of transitioning the state’s vehicle fleet to natural gas as a fuel source and developing a supporting infrastructure, according to the governor’s office. Members representing the energy, retail and legal communities have been appointed to the committee.

Tomblin and others attending the meeting in Wheeling had the opportunity to view the Blue Bird company bus parked outside that is powered by propane, a byproduct of West Virginia’s “wet” natural gas.

Jim Titus, director of communications for Blue Bird, demonstrated that the engine of the bus made less noise than traditional diesel-fueled buses.

He also noted the cost of propane – currently at $1.62 per gallon – is less than half the current price for diesel. He said school districts could negotiate even cheaper prices at a bulk rate.

“It would be pretty neat to run our school buses on propane made in West Virginia at half the cost,” Tomblin said. “And they appear to run quiet and clean. I was also surprised at how well it rode the terrain.”

Ohio County Schools Transportation Director David Ziegler and mechanics at the school district garage had the opportunity to view the bus Thursday, and Ziegler said it did compare to diesel buses in terms of the power needed to transport students over West Virginia’s hills.

While he doesn’t think natural gas could be a viable source for fueling school buses, Ziegler believes propane could be an option. He is presently examining the information provided to him by the Blue Bird company.

“From what I’ve looked at, propane is cheaper than diesel fuel … ,” Ziegler said. “We would still be using an alternative fuel and getting away from foreign oil.”

Task force members Friday looked at the potential costs of replacing the state’s school buses, and whether propane or natural gas would be readily available to supply the resulting demand.

The governor’s legal counsel provided statistics stating there are about 38,000 school buses in West Virginia, and that their average age is 12 years. The state spends about $22 million to $24 million annually to replace school buses.

Peter Markham, general counsel for the office of the governor, noted it was likely natural gas and propane buses would be implemented first in state’s more populated areas, and those closest to natural gas pipelines.

He added representatives of retail and convenience stores have been included on the committee, as these establishments would be important in establishing fueling centers.