McHenry County governments look toward propane powered vehicles

Local entities take advantage of state grants for conversion costs

CARY – The idea of propane running some of the Cary Park District trucks took a little getting used to, but once the first trucks were converted, maintenance department foreman Jaime Arreola couldn’t tell the difference.

The park district is one of a few local entities that has converted parts of its fleet to propane, also known as liquefied petroleum gas.

Many of the entities are taking advantage of state grants that will offset most or all of the conversion cost.

The Cary Park District converted three trucks to dual fuel systems, which allow the trucks to switch to gasoline when the propane runs out, in the fall of 2012 and has plans to convert an additional two this year, said Ben Rea, the superintendent of park maintenance. It also has two propane-powered mowers.

The park district receives a $4,000 rebate for each truck converted, which covers about two-thirds of the $6,000 to $7,000 cost, Rea said.

The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, which is looking to convert 20 of its squad cars by the end of August, also will use the $4,000-per-vehicle rebate to cover all of the cost of the conversion kits, Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said.

A fueling station also will be added on-site and will be paid for by AmeriGas Propane of Gurnee, which received the bid to supply the propane, Zinke said. The contract will continue to be competitively bid going forward.

Fifty of the McHenry County Conservation District’s 63 vehicles use alternative fuels, 18 of those using propane, according to Wendy Kummerer, the district’s spokeswoman. The fleet was designated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Chicago Area Clean Cities coalition as an Illinois Green Fleet.

The clean-burning, high-energy alternative fuel has been used for decades to power vehicles and is the world’s third most common engine fuel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Propane, though, only makes up about 2 percent of the energy used in the U.S., with less than 2 percent of that going toward transportation fuel, the department said.

Of the 118 designated government, business and nonprofit fleets listed on the Illinois Green Fleet website, 14 include propane-powered vehicles. The vast majority use ethanol or biodiesel as fuel.

“We have had great success with propane fuel,” fleet mechanic Steve Grover said. “It is cleaner coming off the tailpipe, you don’t lose on miles per gallon, it’s readily available, typically cheaper, there’s no difference in power and engines last longer.”

The McHenry County Conservation District estimates that it saves about 10 cents per mile using propane over gasoline. With a typical district vehicle averaging 100,000 miles over its lifetime, the district estimates the savings at $10,000 per vehicle.

Ethanol-based E-85 isn’t as good on gas mileage, and so the district spends more time filling up, Grover said.

Propane also delivers the same power as gasoline, which is necessary for trucks that do double duty as snowplows and pull trailers with heavy equipment on them, Rea said. The cleaner-burning fuel also means fewer oil changes.

Propane made the most sense for the sheriff’s office after a two-year staff review, Zinke said. Propane does not require as large a gas tank as some other alternative fuels, which is important for the equipment-heavy vehicles.

“It burns green. It’s mined here in the United States. It’s cheaper than gasoline, and we’re not foreign dependent on it,” Zinke said.

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