STEUBENVILLE - The Steel Valley Regional Transit Board figures the time might be right to identify businesses and public agencies potentially interested in switching to compressed natural gas, and then figuring out what the cash outlay might be as well as the return on investment.
Transit Manager Frank Bovina said they've had the idea on the back burner "for about a year-and-a-half, "but it's probably the major project we're looking at as having potential for the future."
"Obviously, we're looking at a lot of projects, like replacing the bus-washing system and improvements to the building and grounds," he said. "A lot of smaller projects, nothing out of the normal. The CNG is kind of a special thing, we believe it can have impact for Steel Valley and others, but we'll need participation by more than Steel Valley to have realistic potential to do something."
Bovina said it's being done in other communities, like Akron, with good results, but there has to be enough interest to justify the expenditure.
"There's info out there that kind of identifies what the potential return could be, but it doesn't really identify it on an individual basis what the capital requirements would be and what kind of real return can be expected," he said. "Really, what we're trying to see if if there's enough of a return to justify a public-private partnership in developing CNG in our area."
Generally speaking, he said if you figure gas prices at $4 a gallon, "converting to a CNG product might provide up to $2 a gallon savings, but ... what each entity could get back would depend on the amount of capital involved, the conversion cost, the mileage you get, the miles they drive."
He said SVRTA spends somewhere around $100,000 a year on fuel, "sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more."
"There might be significant savings that can be shared all around," he added. "And at the same time, if the private sector actually ran the fueling station and other private entities provided support services, those would basically be new jobs."
Bovina said SVRTA has about $15,000 remaining in federal stimulus funds that it could use to develop the basic inventory, "and we hope at that point to apply for a development grant that would provide a full study."
He said it's a long-term project, "but we see a lot of value to it."
"We know we're not going to be the first guys on the block, we're not reinventing the wheel," he said. "It's just a question if we can get enough participation together to really provide adequate return for everybody and realistically compete for any funding that's available."