ASHEVILLE — Aiming to become the greenest city in the Southeast, Asheville boosted the number of vehicles in the municipal fleet that can run on cheaper and cleaner-burning compressed natural gas.
City officials along with Land-of-Sky Regional Council staffers and Mission Health Systems celebrated the reopening Wednesday of the city’s CNG-filling station on McCormick Place and the addition of new vehicles that will mean less greenhouse gas emissions and better air quality for the mountains.
“This is what it looks like to become the greenest city in the Southeast. You need the people with commitment and the clean local technology,” said Maggie Ullman, the city’s sustainability director.
The new vehicles and station improvement were the region’s share of federal stimulus money obtained through the Carolina Blue Skies and Green Jobs Initiative.
Spearheaded by the Triangle J Council of Governments, the project has spent about $12 million for more than 40 alternative fuel projects in North and South Carolina that should save 3 million gallons of gas each year.
The Asheville area has become a leader in the use of CNG vehicles, with two-thirds of the vehicles reported in operation in North and South Carolina, said Kathy Boyer of the Triangle J Council. “You guys have done a really good job,” she said.
The city station was originally built in 2005, but the renovations have doubled the station’s capacity. The city used $1.5 million including more than $800,000 in stimulus money for the improvements and to add 23 new CNG-fueled vehicles. Currently, 37 of the city’s 600 vehicles, or about 7 percent, run on the compressed natural gas, which typically costs a dollar less than a gallon of gasoline.
The CNG infrastructure is expanding around the region, making it easier for drivers to refuel vehicles converted to run on compressed natural gas.
Other sites include Alltec Eco Energy’s station on Hendersonville road and a new station in Hendersonville. PSCNC, the area’s natural gas utility, plans to open a filling station on Brevard Road later this year.
“We have the largest concentration of CNG filling stations than in any other part of the state,” said Bill Eaker, who heads the Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s Clean Vehicles Coalition.
Mission Health Systems workers will also use the station to fuel the five new CNG vehicles added to the nonprofit’s shuttle fleet. Mission received about $100,000 in grant money for the purchases. Using CNG fuel the past six years has reduced Mission’s greenhouse gas emissions by 276,000 pounds, saving some 14,000 gallons of gas.
Mission is committed not just to the health of individuals but improving the health of the environment for all, according to Dr. Ronald Paulus, Mission’s CEO.
“We can do right by doing good,” Paulus said. “The quality of our air impacts the health status of our community, whether it’s kids with asthma or adults with COPD.”
Natural gas is cheaply abundant in the U.S., which has greater reserves of the gas than Saudi Arabia has oil, Paulus said.
“It’s a lot easier to budget for natural gas as a fuel than for diesel,” said Keith Bamberger with the state Division of Air Quality in Swannanoa. With the move toward cleaner-burning vehicles as well as the smokestack improvements at the Progress Energy plant, “our air quality is getting noticeably better in recent years,” he said.