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Interest in natural gas vehicles revs up

December 8, 2013
By LARRY SHIELDS - Staff Writer (lshields@salemnews.net) , Salem News

BROOKFIELD - Chuck Diehl said Smith Dairy got into Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)- powered trucks from a sustainability point of view after they looked at a lot of factors.

Diehl, the fleet manager for the Orville-based company that is converting about 400 trucks to CNG power, spoke during a Natural Gas Vehicle Lunch and Learn seminar at Yankee Lake on Thursday.

About 200 guests brought a wide range of interests to the event that drew a number of Columbiana County government officials including Anna Marie Vaughn, superintendent of the Columbiana County Educational Service Center; R.B. Mehno, Leetonia Schools superintendent; John Dilling, Crestview superintendent; and, Lance Willard, the city manager for Columbiana and the street superintendent Jesse Wilson.

Article Photos

Three regional state representatives, two from Ohio and one from Pennsylvania were special guests at a Natural Gas Vehicle Lunch and Learn seminar at Yankee Lake in Brookfield on Thursday. From left, Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Longietti (D-7), Ohio state Reps. Sean J. O’Brien (D-63) and Nick Barborak (D-5) are shown alongside a Compressed Natural Gas-powered Chevrolet Impala on display at the seminar. Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith was also a special guests to the event that drew about 200 people. (Salem News photo by Larry Shields)

Nine sponsors presented the seminar including the General Motors, Clean Fuels Ohio and the Youngstown/Warren Chamber along with the Lawrence County Chamber and the Shenango Valley Chamber.

Ohio state Reps. Sean J. O'Brien (D-63), Nick Barborak(D-5) and Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Longietti (D-7) along with Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith were special guests. O'Brien and Barborak are sponsoring pending legislation in Ohio to incentivize CNG use while Longietti has backed it in his state.

Back to Smith Dairy.

"We looked at weight, rolling resistance and aerodynamics," Diehl said, explaining that Smith Dairy arrived at a point in its thinking where it asked, "And why are we carrying around all this fuel?"

Arriving at that conclusion was, "spot on," he said and they began looking at advanced fuels. He noted Smith Dairy is on a very rural state Route 57 and it built its own CNG station. "Four months after opening the public volume outgrew our own volume," he said. "We opened in September 2012 at $1.95 a gallon and haven't changed it since."

And, he predicted, "If you come and see us in the next five months it will say $1.95."

That was one of the stories underpinning the seminar aimed at promoting CNG in this shale-oil and gas rich region that the three state lawmakers are promoting.

"You wouldn't have this seminar if we weren't sitting on it," Barborak said.

In Ohio, it's House Bill 336 which O'Brien said has 63 sponsors ranging from Tea Party to liberal left-wing representatives, that is expected to help move CNG expansion along.

"It's very bipartisan," Barborak said.

"It's in the finance committee now," O'Brien said, explaining it breaks down vehicles into weight categories - small, medium and heavy - for three levels of incentives. He said tax incentives are for converting vehicles to CNG or buying them new and it is partially based on legislation used in Pennsylvania.

"In Utica Shale, we're light years behind Pennsylvania," O'Brien said.

Longietti said infrastructure needs sufficient demand and incentives. "In Pennsylvania there is a grant program," he said, explaining the vehicle break down includes two levels: over and under 14,000 lbs.

Pennsylvania has also found GNG station investors like grants more than tax incentives. O'Brien acknowledged that might be a better approach for Ohio. "Grants for the incremental cost for conversions or new," he said. There is a companion bill, HB 335, that includes loans. "So in Ohio we're looking at grants along with tax incentives," O'Brien added. He expects the bills to clear the house in mid-spring and the senate by next summer.

The three lawmakers see CNG helping the region regardless of which side of the state line they're on.

"We've got the same thing across the border. Our concept is let's share ideas and implement the ideas that make sense for the region," O'Brien said,

Longietti said manufacturing is starting to make a comeback and with the relative low cost of CNG that can only help. He noted the three of them are about the same age. "We want to do our part to bring our economies back," he said.

"Our concern is job creation," O'Brien said. A paycheck. That's what is going to stimulate manufacturing coming back and we need to develop a policy to augment and develop it. We're hearing things everyday. It's an evolving process because we're at the beginning of an energy revolution."

He thought it was interesting that former Chesapeake Energy boss, Aubrey McClendon, started another company and came right back to this area.

"Every indication is we're at the forefront of an exciting time for our region," Barborak said,

 
 

 

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