County to Get Propane-Fueled Bus

CHARLEVOIX — Officials in Charlevoix County are set to receive a new propane-fueled bus this summer, which will be the first of its kind for the public transit agency.

The bus, which costs $83,925, was paid for entirely through federal and state funding sources, officials said.

“It seems to be the wave of the future for alternative fuels in between (gas or diesel) and compressed natural gas,” said Jill Drury, Charlevoix County’s transit manager. 

Drury said the bus will not look much different than the rest in Charlevoix County’s fleet in terms of style and design. It comes with customizable seating arrangements for up to four wheelchair or other mobility devices. When all seats are in place, the bus can seat 16 passengers.

Charlevoix County used a propane-fueled van last summer as a test project in advance of the bus purchase. 

“The cost for a propane vehicle is more than a gas engine, but runs cleaner and is just as efficient,” she said. “We’re very excited to have this alternative fuel option available to us.”

The amount of operating cost saved will be dependent on the price of gasoline, she said.

Experts say propane-fueled engines are better than traditional fuel-powered ones in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but to measure the benefit depends on the vehicle that is being replaced.

“In general, it does have some environmental benefits,” said Andy McGlashen, a spokesman for the Michigan Environmental Council. “My understanding is if you look at the life cycle of the vehicle, you get a pretty decent greenhouse gas emission reduction with propane as compared to regular gasoline or diesel.” 

Propane buses have been in service for at least the last several years in areas around the state. Benzie County to the south just received its eighth bus with a propane-powered engine. Bill Kennis, the county transit agency’s executive director, said those buses make up about one-third of the county’s fleet and provide environmental and cost advantages.

“There’s no question it burns cleaner,” Kennis said. “The oil, when you change it you don’t even know it was used.”

“It’s definitely the way to go. America has got such an abundance of propane we just think it will be a lot more stable in the future,” he added. 

The bus will become one of 19 operated by the county’s transit agency. Drury said as many as 11 others have reached age and mileage marks at which point officials can seek state and federal transportation funding to replace them. Those 11 buses seat anywhere from 15 to 18 passengers.

The propane-fueled bus, expected to arrive in July, will replace an existing hybrid bus in Charlevoix County’s fleet, which was received about five years ago. The manufacturer of that bus, Drury said, has gone out of business, making technical, maintenance and other specialized support problematic.

The county used $109,000 in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to purchase the hybrid bus and federal officials authorized Charlevoix County and other agencies that purchased buses from Oak Park-based Azure Dynamics, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012 and halted production of hybrid buses.   

Drury is preparing an application for the 2016 fiscal year. She plans to seek funding to replace more buses, at least one of which has 210,000 miles on it. That one and others are more than 10 years old. It’s unlikely, though, enough money will be awarded to replace more than a few of the 11 that are ready to be retired, Drury said.

“There’s just not enough money from the federal and state level for bus replacement across the state,” she said.

Charlevoix County’s transit agency operates on an annual budget of about $1.6 million. County buses transported 117,000 passengers last year.

Propane Customers Urged To Get Early Fill For Upcoming Heating Season

LANSING, Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder is urging propane customers in Michigan to get their tanks filled before the heating season starts.

"Last winter was one we'll all remember," Snyder said. "This is especially true for some propane customers who found it challenging to find additional propane as cold temperatures lingered. That's why now is the time to get an early fill, lock-in prices ahead of the heating season and get on a budget payment plan, if available."

Snyder announced that various state agencies are ready to assist propane customers, should the upcoming winter put a squeeze on propane supplies again.

"To marshal every state resource, I have directed multiple state agencies to continue working together to protect the health and safety of Michigan residents as we approach the heating season," he said.

The Michigan Energy Assistance Program, administered by the Michigan Department of Human Services, offers assistance to low-income utility customers, including propane customers. Residents in need of heating assistance with deliverable fuels are asked to call 2-1-1 or visit michigan.gov/heatingassistance for help.

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) created a new website, michigan.gov/propane, where customers can get more details about all state-related propane programs.

The MPSC will also now monitor wholesale propane prices throughout the state to look for any indications of price or supply problems that may be developing in specific areas, and it will continue to list the average statewide price of propane for residential customers on its website: http://www.dleg.state.mi.us/mpsc/reports/shopp

Propane-Powered UPS Delivery Trucks Could Give A Boost To Propane Suppliers

 
 

Summary

  • UPS is now a potential customer for propane suppliers like Ferrellgas and AmeriGas Partners.
  • The company's decision could convince other fleet operators to switch to propane, opening up new markets for companies like Suburban Propane Partners.
  • The TTM revenues of propane suppliers already exhibited growth before UPS announced its use of propane.

Back in March, UPS (UPS) made a game-changing move that could upset the alternative fuel landscape. The delivery giant decided to spend $70 million to purchase 1,000 propane-powered delivery trucks from Daimler AB (OTCPK:DDAIY).

This move is a game changer because it increases the credibility of propane, or liquid petroleum gas (LPG), as a vehicle fuel. Having a company as big and as visible as UPS using propane-powered vehicles demonstrates that propane can be used for something besides heating and barbecuing. Previously, the biggest users of propane-powered vehicles included Schwann's, the frozen food delivery service, which operates 5,500 LPG-powered trucks.

It also will make it easier for propane suppliers like AmeriGas Partners (NYSE:APU), Suburban Propane Partners (NYSE:SPH) and Ferrellgas Partners (NYSE:FGP) to promote the use of propane as a vehicle fuel to government and business customers.

All three of these companies currently supply what is known as fleet autogas or liquefied petroleum gas to power fleet vehicles. Their autogas efforts include:

  • Ferrell Gas provides the fuel for Schwann's delivery trucks.
  • Suburban Propane Partners lists fleet autogas among the commerical services it offers on its website.
  • AmeriGas' website lists specific programs to provide LPG for government motor pools, commercial vehicle fleets, transit buses and the taxicab and limousine industry.

Each propane-powered UPS truck will be a rolling advertisement for propane-fueled vehicles. Even if UPS does not buy propane directly from those companies, it could increase the potential market for fleet autogas.

Propane Is a Cheap Fuel

UPS is interested in propane as a vehicle fuel because it is clean-burning and cheaper than gasoline or diesel fuel, Bloomberg reported. The latest available information from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) showed that the wholesale price for a gallon of propane in the United States on March 17, 2014, ranged from $1.29 to $1.63 depending on the state.

Propane is also readily available in rural areas and other locations where natural gas is not. There is a propane dealer in almost every small town in the United States, which makes it possible to fill the tank there. Ferrellgas alone has dealerships in all 50 states.

Obviously, the UPS move could convince other large fleet operators to switch to propane-fueled vehicles, which would give propane suppliers a new source of revenue. Reuters reported that this is already happening. The school system in Cleveland has started buying propane-powered buses. Cleveland's Municipal School District decided to go with propane because refueling systems for propane buses are cheaper than those for natural gas-burning buses.

Impressive Revenue Growth in Propane

Propane's growing use by fleet operators gives propane suppliers a new revenue stream at a time when their revenue is already going up and up. AmeriGas Partners' TTM revenue has increased by nearly $2 billion since March 2012. In March 2012 AmeriGas reported a TTM revenue figure of $2.77 billion; it rose to $3.13 billion in March 2013 and $3.65 billion in March 2014. Ferrellsas' TTM revenue rose from $1.96 billion in April 2013 to $2.35 billion after a drop from $2.447 billion in April 2012. Suburban Propane Partners showed the most impressive TTM revenue growth - its number grew from $1.056 billion in March 2012 to $1.57 billion in March 2013 to $1.93 billion in March 2014.

The propane suppliers are displaying impressive revenue growth without the effect of the UPS propane fleet on the market. To be fair, some of that revenue growth is due to the cold winter, which drove up demand and propane prices. Some observers noted that propane prices increased by 37% in some markets in January.

The propane prices increased dramatically because the gas is widely used as a heating fuel in rural regions of the United States. In some parts of the U.S., such as Colorado, propane is the principal heating fuel in areas without natural gas.

That makes the propane market inherently unstable and vulnerable to the weather. Yet it also shows how vehicle fuel could provide propane suppliers with a steady revenue source. Vehicles run all year round and need fuel even if the weather is warm.

Adding vehicle fleets as customers will not only increase the propane suppliers' market, it will give them a steady, year-round revenue stream. That makes these low-priced stocks even more interesting as a valuable investment.

Source: Propane-Powered UPS Delivery Trucks Could Give A Boost To Propane Suppliers
 

Additional disclosure: I am long Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) (NYSE:RDS.B), two companies that produce propane.

 

Lehr Inc. outboard engines ditch gasoline for propane

These outboard engines won't cook burgers and brats, but they use the same fuel as a barbecue grill.

Lehr Inc., a Los Angeles company with its national sales and marketing office in Oshkosh, has made a few waves in the marine industry with outboards that can run on a propane canister used on a camp stove.

The outboard engine was invented in Wisconsin in the early 1900s, and it still has strong ties to the state through boating, Mercury Marine and the Evinrude brand based in Sturtevant.

Lehr says it has sold about 10,000 engines, a drop in the bucket compared with Fond du Lac-based Mercury Marine Inc., but the start-up company has gained sales through large retailers such as West Marine and Cabela's.

Now in its third year of making outboards, Lehr has won awards and accolades from Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The small engines, up to 15 horsepower in size, operate on any propane bottle, including the popular tanks used with grills and garage heaters.

The engines eliminate the need to carry gasoline on your boat, and Lehr claims they produce fewer pollutants than a gasoline-powered outboard.

Water can't get into a sealed, pressurized propane tank, and that could be helpful for boaters who have struggled to keep moisture from seeping into their gasoline fuel system and causing engine failure.

"We sell our engines on the basis that gasoline isn't reliable," said John Davids, Lehr's Midwest regional manager and a former Mercury Marine executive.

The company also says two of its engines have the industry's first internal battery that weighs less than two pounds, eliminating the extra weight and clutter of having a separate, much heavier battery in the boat.

Many baby boomers, sometimes dealing with a touch of arthritis, prefer an electric starter than a pull rope to fire up their outboard, Davids said.

Environmental concerns

Lehr Inc. is the creation of Bernardo Herzer, a former ship captain who once mapped environmental damage in the North Sea and was troubled by the impact of gasoline spillage on the environment.

The company started in 2007 by making propane-powered lawn-and-garden equipment, including a string trimmer that was sold under the Craftsman brand at Sears Roebuck & Co. stores.

Lehr was in that business a few years and then sold the licensing to Fiskars Corp., a Finnish manufacturer that owns Fiskars Brands Inc., based in Madison.

In 2011, Fiskars voluntarily recalled more than 2,000 propane-powered string trimmers when it was learned that engine vibration could cause wear on the fuel line and result in a fuel leak. Not long after that, Fiskars dropped its propane-powered products.

Lehr is preparing to relaunch the lawn-and-garden equipment business under its name. Meanwhile, the company remains focused on outboard engines, including a 25-horsepower model that's coming later this year.

Lehr envisions a day when a pontoon boat would use propane to power the engine, lights, barbecue grill, refrigerator and bug zapper. These boats could be the ideal platform because they're large enough to support a built-in propane tank that holds a lot of fuel.

Pontoons are the fastest-growing segment of boating. Lehr has fielded requests from pontoon boat builders interested in offering the fuel as an option in their lineup, said Jack Malone, vice president of sales.

One of Lehr's challenges is persuading boat builders to use its engines, especially since Brunswick Corp., the nation's largest boat manufacturer, owns Mercury Marine. Still, there are independent boat builders who don't have an allegiance to any one engine brand.

"Boat builders are looking for environmentally friendly alternatives. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of our engines being on anybody's boats," Malone said.

NuCanoe Inc. offers a Lehr outboard on one of its kayaks, which are made in Oostburg.

The 2.5-horsepower motor, which weighs about 35 pounds, can power a roto-molded plastic kayak for a few hours using a small propane canister, according to Bellingham, Wash.-based NuCanoe.

"For someone who wants to use a motor, it's a very good option," NuCanoe President Blake Young said.

Noisier than gas engines

BoatUS Foundation, funded by Boat Owners Association of the United States, tested Lehr propane outboards and compared them with similar-size electric and gasoline engines.

"The Lehr is about as close to a traditional outboard as you can get, but without the hassles of choking the motor, mixing fuel, and pouring gas," said Ted Sensenbrenner, BoatUS Foundation's assistant director for boating safety.

"The small Lehr (2.5 horsepower) was the noisiest engine we used and vibrated more than the other outboards, but it also drove the boats faster than the same size Mercury. The larger Lehr, which our drivers preferred, was much quieter than the 2.5-horsepower engine but still noisier than its gasoline counterpart," the foundation wrote.

Lehr says its engines are about 85% similar to other four-stroke outboards on the market, except for the fuel system.

The engines are designed in Los Angeles and made in China. Some boaters, in online forums, have complained about the quality and reliability of Lehr engines.

But the engines are manufactured in a plant less than 100 miles from a Mercury Marine plant in China, according to Davids, and Lehr manages the production and quality control.

"That's why, three years into this, we are not overwhelmed with warranty work," Davids said.

Davids and Malone have spent decades in the marine industry. Malone was once in charge of Yamaha's outboard engine division, and Davids worked for Yamaha and several boat builders before landing a job with Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac.

They're quick to point out that a lot of big machines, including forklifts, are powered by propane.

"In some parts of the world, nearly every taxicab runs on it," Davids said.

Limit to growth

One of Lehr's goals is to build bigger propane outboards, including a 115-horsepower engine. But some marine industry experts say those engines would quickly burn through a small tank of fuel and not give the boater much operating range between fill-ups.

"At some point, the portable tanks won't be adequate or convenient," said Charles Plueddeman, a freelance writer from Oshkosh who has covered the marine industry for many years.

Still, the small engines have found a niche with sailboat operators who hate gasoline but want something to power their boat in an emergency or take a dinghy to shore.

"They are sort of the backpackers of boaters ... and a lot of these sailors already use propane for cooking, so they're comfortable with it," Plueddeman said.

New Propane Outboards Are A 'Green' Option

New Propane Outboards Are A 'Green' Option

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Motorboat engines are now available that have lower emissions and are cheaper to run than conventional models.

Dave White from the New York Sea Grant talks about new propane-powered outboards. Click on the picture for his interview on 7 News This Morning.

There are 2.5 and 5 horsepower engines that use 16-ounce propane canisters, plus 9.9 and 15 horsepower engines that hook up to regular size propane tanks.

There is no risk of gasoline spills, a 97 percent reduction in emissions, and the fuel is about half the cost of gasoline.

For more information on the Sea Grant, call 315-312-3042 or visit www.nyseagrant.org.

Mammoth Cave Uses Propane Autogas

The Propane Education & Research Council has given the National Park Service fleet at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave another boost, donating $62,000 worth of equipment including three John Deere zero-turn mowers, two Generac portable generators, and a CleanFuel USA propane dispenser. updated July 11

Going with autogas at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky

Going with autogas at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky

The dispenser features CleanFuel USA new eConnect fuel network management system (F&F, April 14). The John Deere mowers were supplied by Kentucky’s Wright Implement.

“PERC’s generous donation of propane equipment will continue to help us reach our sustainability goals,” Mammoth Cave National Park acting superintendent Russell Runge says in a PERC release.

“Not only do the donations help MCNP become more environmentally friendly and better monitor fuel usage, but they also advance the National Park Service’s Green Parks Plan aimed at reducing dependence on foreign oil, mitigating effects of climate change, and conserving energy,” said PERC president and CEO Roy Willis.

Propane Buses and Pickups Too

PERC notes that MCNP also operates eight propane autogas-fueled Bluebird school buses and two propane autogas-fueled Roush CleanTech Ford F250 pickup trucks. “From shuttling patrons through the park to heating water and mowing grounds, MCNP provides a green experience for park employees and visitors,” the association said.

The National Park Service operates both road vehicles and mowers fueled by propane autogas at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

The National Park Service operates both road vehicles and mowers fueled by propane autogas at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

“We hope our efforts to use clean energy also set an example and encourage park visitors and our employees to embrace sustainability themselves,” Runge said.

Clean Cities Plays a Key Role

MCNP’s sustainability efforts, PERC says, began in the late 1990’s with the support of the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition, a Clean Cities Coalition partner: “KCFC was instrumental in securing the donation of the first eight propane autogas buses, as well as cultivating MCNP’s relationship with PERC.

“KCFC has been advocating for alternative fuel usage and supporting the National Park Service since it was established in 1993,” PERC says.

Propane for Mammoth Cave National Park is supplied by the Glasgow, Ky. arm of Southern States, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Richmond, Va.

Alternative fuel vehicles on display in Savannah, Ga.

The fourth annual Alternative Vehicle Roadshow, sponsored by Georgia Power, other energy companies and the Public Service Commission, came to Savannah Friday afternoon with a selection of vehicles put on display outside the International Trade and Convention Center on Hutchinson Island.

A panel discussion and seminars on alternative fuels inside the conventioncenter featured Public Service Commisioner Tim Echols and representatives from Georgia Power, AGL, Municipal Gas Authority, NISSAN, EFACEC EV Chargers, FlexFuel Awareness Campaign, Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) and others.

The discussion focused on the practicality of implementing alternative fuel transportation solutions and the benefits of swapping out fuel-guzzling gas and diesel vehicles for clean, domestically-produced fuels such as natural gas, propane, electricity and biofuels.

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