A proposal to convert a portion of the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office fleet to propane autogas could save $25,000 a year, and start a chain of conversions in the county that could save much more, local officials said.
The matter was brought before the Sampson Board of Commissioners during its recent meeting, and will be considered further at a special meeting next month, at which time a more in-depth presentation will be given.
Parker Gas Company recently approached the Sheriff’s Office regarding a program that converts vehicles from gasoline to propane fuel, one that was successfully utilized by the Raleigh Police Department. According to an analysis completed by Parker Gas, the county could save close to $24,746 per year by converting 24 cars to run on propane. The net savings includes the cost to acquire the conversion equipment through a lease purchase agreement.
If the process is deemed successful for the Sheriff’s Office, it could be utilized to generate savings for other departments as well, such as the county-operated Sampson Area Transportation. The board held off on any authorization to enter into a lease purchase agreement for the conversion equipment, but were given an analysis that showed the savings the could result.
“We have encouraged everyone, per the board’s directives, to be continually looking for opportunities for saving dollars and maximizing efficiencies,” county manager Ed Causey stated.
The analysis showed a propane autogas conversion might be one of those opportunities.
Parker Gas Company, utilizing information about the sheriff’s vehicles mileage and gas use, showed potential savings that could be achieved by converting 24 cars to run on autogas.
According to those numbers, the 24 vehicles log 69,138 total miles in a given month, using 4,707 gallons of gas in the process. Multiplying that by 12 months, those vehicles consume about 56,480 gallons of gas each year.
At $3.13 a gallon, that is a cost of $176,780 annually to fill up those vehicles alone.
Using calculations for liquefied petroleum (LP) auto gas, Parker estimated there would be 62,127 gallons used over the same one-year timeframe, compared to the 56,480 gallons of regular gas. On average, running on LP gas reduces gas mileage by 10 to 15 percent per vehicle, he noted.
“The cost per gallon more than offsets that,” Parker Gas owner Daren Parker said. “If you’re losing 10 percent (in miles per gallon), the cost per gallon is going to more than save you the difference in the few miles you’re losing.”
While trips to fill up would be more frequent, Parker said, the cost per LP gallon would be fixed at about half the current rate, or $1.52, as used in the analysis. At that rate, the total cost for the same vehicles would be $94,433 with LP gas, a savings of $82,346, the analysis showed. Factoring in the lease per year cost of $2,400 per vehicle ($57,600 total), the actual savings per year would be $24,746.
The total cost of 22 units would be valued at $127,600, a cost of $5,800 per vehicle. The other two conversions could be done free of charge. The lease agreement would require a payment of about $4,100 per month over the course of three years, with other associated costs factored in.
Should Sampson enter into the lease purchase agreement, the conversion equipment will belong to the county at the end of the lease term and is designed to be transferred to new vehicles. Parker Gas will provide the county with a propane filling station at the Sheriff’s Office at no additional charge, finance officer David Clack said.
“Having a filling station at the department will allow the officers access to fuel even when power has been lost due to a storm, as happened in the past due to hurricanes,” he said.
Causey and Clack met with representatives from Parker Gas, Alliance Auto Gas and the Raleigh Police Department recently to attend a presentation about the program at the Sheriff’s Office. Clack said Raleigh police have been running several converted cars for approximately one year and, not only have they not experienced any problems or maintenance issues with the system, they intend to convert more cars in the coming year.
“The process basically is they can run on LP gas, but they can also still run on gasoline,” said Clack. “So, you don’t lose anything. If you run out of gas on one, you still have the other kind. The savings in LP gas would more than offset any costs we would have. We thought this would be a good way to save money, especially after the lease is paid off.”
Parker explained what is known as a “bi-fuel system,” through which the vehicle starts on gasoline and immediately switches to auto gas. It runs on auto gas and when the level of the LP gets low enough, it switches automatically back to regular gas. The technology, according to Alliance AutoGas, “provides drivers with flexibility and fleet managers with peace of mind because the vehicle can switch back to gasoline if necessary, so fuel can always be reached.”
‘We can save a
lot of money’
Parker expressed an interest in giving a full presentation of the program to commissioners. He said he could explain the process more comprehensively, detailing the benefits of the conversion and the results seen by other agencies, as well as detail the 12-month fixed pricing and market rate options for LP gas. A converted vehicle could also be brought in for commissioners to peruse, he said.
Conversions to propane auto gas are being seen more and more, said Parker.
“It’s already being used all across the world,” he said.
Raleigh has converted 20 vehicles, 10 at first and another 10 since. With those first 10 vehicles alone, Raleigh reportedly saved $30,000. There are 25 law enforcement agencies in the Southeast that have similar ongoing programs.
Commissioner Albert Kirby said he wanted to hear more about the process, but said he was excited about the possibilities — and the savings — that might come along with the Sheriff’s Office. If the results are positive there, a full county conversion would be welcomed, Kirby said.
“Typically, a vehicle that runs 20,000 or 25,000 miles or more per year, it’s feasible,” Parker said. “If you’ve got a vehicle that is running 10,000 miles just in local driving and is not doing a lot of miles, the payback is just not there.”
He mentioned Sampson Area Transportation as a prime candidate for cost savings via conversion.
“There might be a lot of savings to be had there as well,” Parker said. “As you know, nationally, the alternative fuel thing is being pushed. That’s caused a lot of technology to be looked at that out there is not only allowing green energy to be available — propane is an alternative green fuel, clean fuel — but the financial side of it is it’s cheaper to operate than typical gasoline.”
It is often a doubled-edged sword when talking green energy, Parker said. Some initiatives may be good for the environment by reducing emissions, but cause additional overhead costs that hurt a company or organization’s bottom line. Parker said a conversion to autogas in Sampson could bring the best of both worlds: clean energy and cost savings.
“I tell all the folks we talk to, ‘You can say green, green, green, green energy, but if it doesn’t save you green bucks, most people are not going to be interested,” Parker said simply. “With particular cars in the county, we can save a lot of money by running the autogas.”
Commissioner Jarvis McLamb made a motion to table the matter and bring Parker, and officials with the Sheriff’s Office and Raleigh Police Department back for a presentation. That presentation will be at 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 3.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.