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Tampa Bay Area's First Compressed Natural Gas Station Opens Friday

The Tampa Bay area's first compressed natural gas opens Oct. 7 in Clearwater.

In an era of solar power, hybrid vehicles and electric cars, the city is planning on another alternative fuel to help power its fleet and residents' rides as well.

A compressed natural gas station to help power new garbage trucks and other vehicles in the city's fleet, opens Friday (Oct. 7). The station, near the on Hercules Avenue, will also be open for public use.

It is the third compressed natural gas filling station in the state. There is one in Ft. Lauderdale and another in Milton. Another will also open at Tampa International Airport.

is offering it as an alternative to unleaded or diesel fuel. 

The fuel equivalency for compressed natural gas is about $2 a gallon. It’s a savings that could make the initial $1.8 million expenditure worth it long term. 

“Our garbage trucks go through about 40 gallons a day,” said Brian Langille, operation manager for Clearwater Gas System.  “With CNG we stand to save about $15,000 to $20,000 each year.”

The city has already purchased one garbage truck capable of using CNG and is ordering 10 more. They will replace other trucks in the fleet with CNG compatible vehicles as needed. Langille expects the garbage trucks to pay for themselves in about two years. 

The city also is buying natural gas pickup trucks. Initially, only the most used of its fleet will be converted, but as time progresses Langille expects to become more dependent on natural gas rather than unleaded or diesel fuel.

The city also will sell the fuel to the public. A zoning change allowing this is expected to be finalized by December.

When it opens it won’t look like your typical gas station. There's no convenience store selling snacks and cold drinks. The station's completely automated. Owners of CNG equipped vehicles will have to register it with the state before obtaining a card from the city to use at the pumps. That system will work in much the same way as a pay-at-the-pump accepting major credit cards.

However, not many residents own CNG compatible vehicles, partly because they aren’t readily available to the public. And the conversion process can be pricey.

But they are coming to Clearwater.

“We are partnering with Autoway Honda to try to have some already converted Civics available for purchase locally,” Langille said.

The Honda Civic is currently the only private use vehicle that comes available with a CNG conversion. Lagille owns one, but had to travel to Cocoa Beach to get it. He also has a CNG fuel pump in his garage. Those pumps are small, about the size of a suitcase, and cost around $3,000, he said.

“I have a Civic with CNG and I just drove to Kissimmee and back,” Langille said. “You really don’t notice the difference in everyday driving.”

Eric Mullen, general manager of Autoway Honda in Clearwater, said his dealership has completed the steps to become a qualified CNG vehicle dealer and the vehicles are available.

“It’s a long process. There are a lot of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements like having enough qualified mechanics and a lot of other stuff," Mullen said. “We often bring vehicles in from other dealerships. We can do that with these too.”

Mullen also said he is trying to get a CNG Civic to display at the October grand opening.

Other vehicles, such as select Ford and Chevy models, can undergo an aftermarket conversion to run on compressed natural gas. However, such a conversion can cost up to $8,000. Last year a tax credit of up to $7,000 was available to convert to CNG. But that is not available anymore.

“I don’t expect that we will have another tax incentive this year,” Langille said. “But if or when we do, it will make the switch a more feasible option.”

Languille hopes the transition from traditional fuels to CNG progresses.

Using natural gas to fuel vehicles is also just as safe as unleaded and diesel fuels. The tank is reinforced and constructed with strong materials such as steel or a hard composite plastic. The fuel itself is also in vapor form, so if a break were to occur in a vehicle’s CNG tank they would evaporate into the air rather than spilling along the ground. The gas is combustible, but the threat of leaks is no more dangerous than that of traditional liquid fuels.

Vehicles retrofitted for use of CNG can be cheaper and cleaner to operate, but they do have setbacks. The fuel tank in modified vehicles is mounted in the trunk, limiting the amount of cargo space. Cars running on natural gas also lose some horsepower. Langille said the difference is negligible though.

All cars containing CNG tanks are also equipped with a regular fuel tank as well. When the vehicle runs out of natural gas, the car automatically switches to the unleaded or diesel fuel source.

“It’s not just cheaper,” Langille said. “It’s cleaner.”

If you go:

What: Compressed Natural Gas Filling Station Grand Opening

When: 10 a.m. Friday (Oct. 7)

Where: 1020 N Hercules Ave

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