Hamilton County planning to test CNG-fueled vehicles

March 10, 2014
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Faced with double-digit increases in annual utility costs—and the promise of more to come—Hamilton County has been trying to make its 31 buildings more efficient. Before long, it could start producing some power of its own.

As IBJ reported this week, county commissioners are working on a plan to install rooftop solar panels on public buildings. (Subscribers: Catch up here.) But they’re also looking to take their energy-savings efforts on the road.

If County Council approves the expenditure, officials hope to begin converting county-owned vehicles to run on compressed natural gas. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see the benefit of filling tanks for less than $1 a gallon.

It costs about $6,000 to retrofit a gasoline-fed vehicle to run on either fuel, said Buildings and Grounds chief Steve Wood. The biggest expense (about $1.5 million at last estimate) would be adding a CNG filling station to service the county’s fleet.

Proponents have been researching the technology for about a year, Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt said, and a formal funding request could come as soon as this month.

“We had a positive meeting” with council members who offered input on the CNG project, Heirbrandt said.

Officials have been working to cut utility costs for years as the county adjusts to state tax caps and other funding challenges. First up were LED lighting and better building-control systems. Today, commissioners are expected to vote on a contract with Indianapolis-based Johnson Melloh Solutions for about $1.3 million in equipment upgrades.

Rather than refurbish the 21-year-old Government Center chillers, for example, crews will replace them with energy-efficient air compressors. The all-electric building also will get natural gas service.

While they’re working on those projects, contractors will prepare the roof for a planned building expansion and the possible solar installation.

Wood praised the commissioners’ effort to come up with a comprehensive approach to finding utility savings.

“They’re looking at what we can do to reduce energy use, improve air quality and make the greatest impact on taxpayers,” said Wood, who also serves on the Noblesville Common Council.

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