Compressed natural gas may be fuel of the future |

Compressed natural gas may be fuel of the future

Switching buses, vans and trolleys at the Lake Tahoe Basin over to compressed natural gas to improve air quality is like crocheting a large blanket — it takes a long time and every knot counts.

A knot recently unraveled and officials are moving fast to retie it.

An agreement was dissolved that would have replaced the temporary compressed natural gas fueling station on Shop Street with a permanent one. Now basin planners are asking the city to allow the station to be installed on top of 30 public parking spaces at the northwest corner of Lake Tahoe Airport.

The proposal was presented at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night. The issue is expected to be heard again by the council Oct. 1.

Hal Cole, member of the City Council and former mayor, said he supports the proposal because it would be the first step to make the airport into a needed transportation hub.

“There is an understanding that if the airport should come back to commercial service, (the fueling station) wouldn’t be too big of a deal to move,” Cole said. “Hopefully it would be moved to somewhere else near the airport. Eventually we’d like to move the buses and maintenance vehicles out there.”

The station could also become a moneymaker for the city as more vehicles make the conversion to compressed natural gas, Cole said.

“The city presently has five vehicles on natural gas and two more are being ordered,” Cole said. “Most of the districts in the area aren’t using natural gas vehicles because it’s not convenient to fuel them. Once this is set up, we’ll start seeing a lot more fleets.”

Nick Haven, a basin transportation planner, said he aims to get the more permanent station, which costs about $800,000, on the ground before winter hits.

“It is a high priority for us,” he said. “The existing station is getting a little overwhelmed.”

Right now, three buses owned by the city, five vehicles used by the California Tahoe Conservancy and one U.S. Forest Service pickup, run on compressed natural gas.

Placer County is working to install a compressed natural gas fueling station at the North Shore. Five buses fitted for natural gas are sitting in Auburn ready to run at the basin once there is a place for them to get fuel.

“There really is no downside to CNG buses except us having only one fueling station,” said Chris Knight, general manager at Area Transit Management, which operates the city buses. “The biggest benefit is the emissions. They are so clean for the environment, and that’s what we need up here in the high Sierra.”

Compressed natural gas burns a lot cleaner than diesel or gasoline and significantly reduces air pollution, a vital issue at the basin, Haven said.

The temporary station, which has one tank and two nozzles, was installed in 1998 after President Clinton held a summit at the lake in 1997.

At Clinton’s behest, four U.S. Post Office trucks, no longer in use, arrived at South Shore and a temporary station was installed on Shop Street on property used by Campora Propane. Purchase of the natural gas pump was funded with grant money from the California Energy Commission and the Nevada State Energy Office.

The new fueling station, to be funded with state and federal grant money, will have two pumps and four nozzles fed by a more efficient compression system. Better compression allows gas tanks to fill more completely and drive longer, Haven said.

The new station, which will accept credit cards and be open to the public, will be key to promoting the use of compressed natural gas in the basin. Prices per therm, a term synonymous with a gallon of gasoline, will be cheaper than regular or unleaded gas, Haven said.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or

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