AVON, IN - A massive effort to convert hundreds of Indiana state vehicles to alternative fuel sources is now under way, reports the Hendricks County Flyer.

The $22.8 million project includes a $10.1 million federal grant. It is being overseen by the Indiana Office of Energy Development and the Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition.

The effort includes a mix of public and private sector partners. The Indiana Department of Transportation is retrofitting 200 F-250s to run on propane and establishing 115 propane fueling stations across the state. It is also implementing dump trucks that use compressed natural gas.

The Marion County Sheriff's Department is outfitting trucks and vans in its fleet to run on propane and will use 25 hybrid light-duty vehicles.

Private businesses such as Lassus Brothers Oil in Fort Wayne have three E-85 stations that are being used by police officers there who drive flex fuel vehicles. Sysco Distribution plans a fleet of 57 hybrid trucks and RUAN trucking will build a compressed natural gas station in Clarksville and use a Class 8 CNG semi.

"As far as what we've done in the past and what has been available for us to do, it's unprecedented," OED Director Brandon Seitz said. "The different technologies and diversity of fuels we're using is going to be important. I think it's going to help promote some of these things, for others to look at what the state's doing and see if it would work for them."

Once the initiative is established and starts showing results, Seitz said he thinks other entities will consider adopting such uses. But a lot of it is still based on economics. Alternative fuels, Seitz says, make sense for fleets and other commercial uses, "But the idea of this sparking a revolution in infrastructure (for private transportation) is probably not going to happen. That would take a lot of money and many pieces coming together. But it does give people the opportunity to view alternatives."

This initiative isn't simply the case of the government leading the charge. Kellie Walsh, executive director of the GICCC, said AT&T embraced the technology a couple years ago. The company now has 10 to 15 vehicles in Indianapolis that run on compressed natural gas, and they're implementing the same thing nationwide.

"AT&T's decision is actually what prompted INDOT to take a look at it," Walsh said. "If they're able to have it make sense on paper, then surely a state fleet can as well."

Verizon recently announced a similar shift to CNG. Walsh says it's already a prominent trend on the East and West coasts. While it has taken longer to get footing here, "When you think of Indiana, you think biofuels like E-85," she said. "But really there is no one alternative fuel that's going to solve our oil dependency. It takes them all."

With a gallon of compressed natural gas currently retailing for a little more than $2, it's not just environmental consciousness that's fueling this conversion, according to the Hendricks County Flyer.

"These fleets want to do things that are right for the environment, but they have to consider their bottom lines first," Walsh said. "If these fuels didn't make sense (economically), they wouldn't be able to justify it."