BIRMINGHAM, AL - Alagasco, a Birmingham, Ala.-based natural gas public utility, has been converting its fleet to run on compressed natural gas as part of its efforts to clean up the air and promote economic growth in the state of Alabama.

Currently 60 units in the approximately 600-unit fleet are natural gas vehicles (NGVs). The natural gas vehicles have been in service for about 18 months. 

Eight-five percent of the natural gas consumed in the U.S. is also produced in the U.S., so Alagasco "prefers to use natural gas because we want our dollars invested back into the U.S. and Alabama economies," according to Bob Strickland, market manager, natural gas transportation for Alagasco.

Doing so has also helped the fleet reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Strickland, Alabama has twelve additional counties that could potentially fall into EPA non-attainment if the current EPA standard of 75 ppb (parts per billion) is reduced to 65 ppb. Being designated as non-attainment can damage a community's ability to attract new industry and prevent existing industry from undertaking expansion projects. Non-attainment communities could also lose federal highway funding and be forced to establish mandatory emission reduction programs, such as vehicle emission testing.

Fuel cost savings are another benefit of using the alternative fuel. "Natural gas is significantly cheaper at the pump, and with gasoline and diesel prices projected to increase at a faster rate than natural gas, it makes economic sense to use natural gas," said Strickland. He said Alagasco is currently purchasing CNG in Birmingham for $1.369 per gge (gasoline gallon equivalent), as compared to about $2.55 per gallon for gasoline.

In addition, some Alagasco drivers have experienced better fuel economy with the CNG-powered models.

"On average, our mileage has been the same regardless of whether we're burning gasoline or natural gas, but some of our marketing representatives with dedicated CNG-powered Hondas are reporting getting more miles per gallon than the mileage ratings posted on the sticker," said Strickland.