Best known for its jagged Rocky Mountain peaks, it’s hard to imagine Colorado also has a vast swath of flat grasslands in Weld County, the third-largest county in the state and one of the nation’s richest agricultural areas. It also holds claim as a top state producer of oil and natural gas, operating 40 percent of all wells statewide.
Thanks to Weld County’s copious natural resources and an availability of state grants, Sheble McConnellogue and Maria Eisemann — coordinators of the Northern Colorado Clean Cities Coalition (NCCC) — agree that there have been distinct advantages when it comes to persuading stakeholders in their area to use alternative fuels.
“The grants available in Colorado have helped build momentum and interest within our communities, specifically for compressed natural gas (CNG), because of its abundance in Northern Colorado,” said McConnellogue, who has been with the coalition since its inception 18 years ago. “The NCCC is fuel neutral, meaning it’s our job to promote all alternative fuels and share the facts, successes, and challenges associated with each. Our mission is to do what we can to make our area less dependent on petroleum.”
Making ‘Lemonade’ from Dirty Air
In 2006, Weld County also became eligible for federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) transportation funds to improve air quality. The funds came as a consequence of being designated a nonattainment area by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because it didn’t meet federal clean air standards.
In an attempt to “make lemonade from lemons” in 2009, the NCCC teamed up with partners in the public and private sector to establish the Weld County Natural Gas Coalition (WCNGC). The WCNGC’s mission became twofold — to improve air quality in the region and create an economic driver by building fueling station infrastructure throughout the county and converting area fleets to natural gas.
McConnellogue and Eisemann were tapped to provide education, support, and expertise along the way.
Since its founding, the WCNGC has funded the installation of four public CNG fueling stations located along Weld County’s major transportation corridor and converted 62 vehicles to CNG and 9 public works department vehicles to liquefied natural gas. Along with the economic growth created from Weld County’s natural gas production, these efforts have played a role in improving air quality and decreasing unemployment in the area.
With the help of the NCCC’s members, the Weld County fleet displaced more than 40,000 gallons of petroleum and averted 6,443 tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2013 alone.
“The Clean Cities partnership was integral and vital to making everything happen, and it continues to be a great partner and resource,” said Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer. “The educational and informational forums Sheble and Maria lead are key to helping the private sector understand how making the switch can also make sense for their bottom line.”
McConnellogue and Eisemann have now expanded their educational efforts throughout their Coalition area. As part of the statewide pilot project, Refuel Colorado Fleets, the NCCC leaders now offer “Energy Coaching” — free technical assistance to fleets, fuel providers, and auto dealers — in four northern Colorado counties.
“Our goal is to educate local fleets about the benefits and incentives that are currently available in Colorado, and how to identify the best alternative fuel for their fleet,” Eisemann said.