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Converting to propane paying off for the Model City

Matthew Lane • Sep 30, 2018 at 9:30 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport has one of the largest “green energy” fleets in the state, with nearly 100 propane-powered vehicles and three dozen hybrids in its stable of mowers, cars and trucks used every day in the Model City.

And by going green a decade ago, Kingsport has managed to save taxpayers at least $250,000 in fuel costs. Propane is about a buck cheaper per gallon than gasoline. For these and other reasons, Kingsport recently received an award from the state — the fourth such honor — for efforts to convert its fleet from gasoline to propane.

“My goal is anything that’s gas-powered, it should be on propane,” said Steve Hightower, the city’s fleet manager.

That’s a lofty goal since Kingsport has more than 850 pieces of equipment in its fleet, everything from police cruisers and pickups, to lawn mowers and transit buses. But with a $68,250 grant recently awarded to the city, Hightower will be able to put an additional 20 vehicles in the “green” column.

CONVERTING TO PROPANE

The grant going before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen next week for approval is from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Kingsport has to pitch in $61,750 to match the state’s portion, and in the end, the $130,000 will cover the cost of converting 20 police cruisers to propane.

Without getting too technical, how the system works is the cruisers will start and warm up on gasoline, then as soon as the engine reaches a certain temperature, the system automatically switches over to propane. Hightower said converted vehicles run on propane 75 percent of the time. Some city departments are reporting a 95 percent rate.

One cruiser has to be certified by the EPA and an independent testing lab in Detroit. Once that’s done, the 20 cruisers will then get their propane kits installed. Hightower thinks all of the converted cruisers will hit the road by January.

GOING GREEN

By going green with its fleet more than a decade ago, Kingsport has not only saved money and become more environmentally friendly, but the city has also become an educational resource on propane-powered vehicles for other groups in our region.

With Kingsport’s help and guidance, NET Trans in Johnson City launched 14 propane-powered vehicles of its own in 2017.

As long as it makes financial sense for the city, Hightower said he’ll continue to look for ways to add more alternative energy vehicles to Kingsport’s fleet.

“First and foremost, there’s a cost savings and there’s a huge environmental gain. It reduces your greenhouse gas emissions because propane burns cleaner,” Hightower said. “For the local taxpayers, they get an immediate benefit because it reduces the cost of keeping the fleet on the road.”

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