Mahoning Valley leaders are moving in the right direction by trying to convert more vehicles to compressed natural gas power.
Trumbull County Highway Engineer Randy Smith is leading an effort to attract a Local Government Innovation Fund grant to explore using CNG to fuel government fleet vehicles. Smith's office, the county commissioners, Newton Falls, Howland, Weathersfield, Dominion East Ohio and Stanwade Tanks and Equipment are partners in the request for $100,000. They would spend the money to review the cost and benefits of CNG-powered fleets as well as a convenient location for a CNG filling station.
The filling station question may already be answered.
Jim Baich, chief operating officer of Dublin-based IGS Energy CNG Services, said his company is building a CNG filling station in Weathersfield that would open in June. Baich said the company plans to open one station per month thereafter, mostly in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
The grant application has been submitted to Ohio's Development Services Agency. Awards should be announced soon. For the Development Services Agency, this should be a no-brainer. While most innovation grant requests are singular in nature, what Trumbull does with CNG can be duplicated in all governments and corporations across the nation.
Which is why every local government, including school districts, in Trumbull County should jump on board with the CNG fleet conversion.
A comparison of diesel and gasoline costs for vehicles in the engineer's office to the current cost of CNG shows the office would save about $147,000 a year on fuel, according to the grant application.
Engine conversion kits, Smith said, run from about $5,000 for a passenger car to as much as $12,000 for a tractor-trailer. It's estimated the payback with the cost of the kits is about 2.5 years.
Fleet conversions would also strengthen what is becoming a leading industry - oil and natural gas exploration, extraction and processing - for Trumbull and Mahoning counties.
So the conversion to CNG engines not only saves money for Trumbull taxpayers, it also strengthens an industry vital to the county's future.