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KRT retreats from natural-gas-powered buses

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County transportation officials are backing off a plan to add eight natural-gas-powered buses to the county's bus fleet.

In August 2012, officials for the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority agreed to use a $2 million federal grant to buy eight natural gas buses. The buses were expected to be operating by next summer.

But KRT general manager Denny Dawson said transportation officials were counting on a natural gas fueling station being built at the main KRT facility on Charleston's West Side, where the authority already fuels its diesel-powered buses.

While a natural gas fueling station will be built at the Spring Street Foodland, Dawson said no one has yet agreed to build a station at KRT. A fueling station big enough to handle buses is expected to cost about $1 million.

Without an onsite fueling station, Dawson said it will be too expensive to operate the new buses.

Dawson said KRT would have to hire an extra maintenance worker to drive the natural gas buses from the KRT facility to Spring Street every night to refuel the vehicles. He said the Spring Street fueling station site is more than two miles away from the KRT facility.

Under the union contract drivers negotiated with KRT, drivers are not permitted to fuel their own vehicles, he said.

Dawson said it costs an extra $50,000 on top of the regular cost of a bus to convert the vehicle to run on natural gas.

Although natural gas costs about half of the equivalent amount of diesel fuel, Dawson said the added conversion costs, costs of an added employee to fuel and take care of the natural gas buses and extra travel time and expense to take the buses to Spring Street for fueling negate any cost savings from switching over to natural gas.

It takes about a year between the time KRT orders a new bus and the vehicle arrives. Although the buses have already been ordered, Dawson said the engine is almost the last thing installed in the vehicle.

Unless someone agrees to build a fueling station at the KRT facility, Dawson said he'll probably tell the manufacturer to send the eight new buses as conventional diesel vehicles.

"We want natural-gas buses," he said. "We do. It's just making it work right now is difficult."

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, who has been pushing local agencies to adopt alternate-fueled vehicles, was not happy to learn KRT might cancel its natural-gas buses.

"It doesn't sit well with me," he said. "But I don't sit on their [governing] board."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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