CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Department of Education is hoping to save millions by hopping on the alternative fuel bandwagon.
A deal is in the works to convert to propane-powered school buses, which could create more than $3,000 in savings in fuel costs per bus per year, according to the department's executive director of transportation, Ben Shew.
"That's about a 50 percent reduction," Shew said. "We use about six million gallons of fuel annually statewide. When you consider the cost of diesel fuel, that's about $24 million. With this, we think we can reduce that cost close to $10 million a year."
Shew recently met with Bret Chandler, managing director of Charleston-based investment group, Propane Fuel Technologies LLC, to discuss the potential for school buses.
The two will address transportation directors from all of the state's school systems next month in Morgantown to provide more details about the next phase of the plan.
Thanks to Chandler, and his ties to Texas-based company, CleanFUEL USA, West Virginia is one of several states across the country that will benefit from a federal Department of Energy grant to build propane-fueling stations and fund vehicle conversions.
"I'd like to see West Virginia get as much of this grant money as I can. Liquid propane happens to be a really good fuel for school buses, and it's allows school systems around the country to significantly reduce costs," Chandler said. "Liquid propane is the third most used fuel in the world. In order for us to catch up with the rest of the world, it certainly is not a bad idea for the general public to get educated."
Liquid propane, or autogas, is a natural byproduct of oil and natural gas drilling, and 90 percent of it that is used in the U.S. comes from the U.S., according to Chandler.
While propane fuel is typically more expensive than compressed natural gas, when it comes to infrastructure and costs for building filling stations, propane is far cheaper.
School systems in 27 states have already implemented propane-powered school buses, according to Shew.
Each year, West Virginia's public schools purchase about 275 new buses to replace buses when they near 12 years of use -- totaling to about $20 million in annual education spending on transportation.