City's Vehicle Fleet Going Green?

The City of Philadelphia’s fleet of more than 5,800 vehicles may soon be ‘going green.’

The City Council Committee on Global Opportunities & Creative/Innovative Economy,  which handles all matters related to developing and promoting Philadelphia’s creative economy, held a public hearing and reviewed a resolution to authorize further investigation of the proposed use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and other alternative fuels for the City’s fleet of vehicles.

Councilman David Oh led the hearing, during which field experts provided testimony in support of the City possibly purchasing or converting vehicles to run on propane auto gas or CNG.

“A lot of the vehicles we have are older and are essentially gas guzzlers,” Oh said. “Part of what this hearing will do, is to hear from some of the experts in this field on some of the updated technology and systems are, and on what some of the cost benefits are of converting to natural gas."

In order to implement the plan, the city would need to invest in both the purchase of new vehicles and the creation of more natural gas fueling stations.

There are currently 30 public natural gas stations and more than 70 public and private natural gas stations in Pennsylvania. A total of 632 natural gas stations are located in states throughout the country.

The city plans to work with a local energy provider to create new CNG fueling stations and would use grants to offset the cost of CNG-fueled vehicle purchases.

The committee heard testimony from the city’s fleet manager Chris Cocci, PECO Energy's director of energy and marketing services Kathy Lentini, and Andrew Graver, business development manager at York, Pa. based heating and cooling company Shipley Energy, among others.

Cocci said government agencies in New York City, as  well as several cities on the west coast have successfully converted portions of their vehicle fleets to natural gas.  He encouraged an increase in city vehicle funding and suggested an initial focus on the City’s public health and safety vehicles.

Representatives for both Shipley and PECO offered to support the city should it decide to convert its fleet to natural gas.

PECO, which currently serves more than 500,000 natural gas customers, owns and operates five of the 10 CNG fueling stations in southeast Pennsylvania. Lentini pledged to assist the city in assessing the pros and cons of CNG use.

“PECO will offer support to help the city look at the various options and the costs, and help them put together a business case,” Lentini said.

Experts providing testimony cited the benefits of using CNG including, cheaper costs and aids to the environment. According to experts on the panel, CNG currently costs roughly $2.11 per gasoline gallon equivalent, is produced domestically, and can reduce overall emissions by up to 30-percent.

Several members of the public in attendance offered comments during the hearing, expressing contempt for the comittee's plan.

Iris Marie Bloom is the executive director of Protecting Our Waters, a local grassroots organization that advocates against gas drilling in Pennsylvania. Bloom argued that the expert panel failed to present the potential dangers of using CNG.

"We are strongly opposed to the conversion of city vehicles to CNG and to propane as well, or any vehicle that would use fracked gas," Bloom said. "This is not a clean fuel. These are fossil fuels that are not safe and there’s nothing alternative about it.”

Another public commentor, Rita Varley was also against the proposal. She suggested that the city consider implementing hybrid vehicles instead.

"I have great concern about the consideration of CNG vehicles for Philadelphia. It’s not such a clean fuel as it’s described. It releases an enormous amount of methane into the air and it’s a serious population threat to our water," Varley said. "I think we should think very carefully about this and not do this. I have concern that this is not a wise idea."

No clear timeline for converting the city's fleet was identified during the hearing. The committee plans to host several additional hearings on the matter before making a final decision.

The city council committee on global opportunities & creative/innovative economy consists of five members:  Councilwoman Cindy Bass, councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr., councilman Brian J. O’Neill, and councilman Dennis O’Brien, as well as councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, who serves as the committee’s vice chair, and councilman-at-large, David Oh, who serves as the committee chair.

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