Economic challenges in recent years might have slowed Montgomery County’s transition to alternative fuels for its fleet of more than 3,000 vehicles but officials still are aiming for a total transition.
“It’s a resource problem but our intent and objective remains the same,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
Representatives of the Division of Fleet Management Services and the Department of General Services presented members of the County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee this past Thursday with an overview of the county’s use of alternative fuel vehicles and its strategy for further greening the fleet.
Of 3,049 vehicles, 695 — or 23 percent — run on alternative fuels, including 94 that run on compressed natural gas, 468 that run on E85 ethanol and 133 hybrids, said Bill Griffiths, the county’s new fleet manager.
In fiscal 2012, the county consumed 1.29 million gallon equivalents of alternative fuel, he said.
Petroleum consumption also dropped from 5,041,238 gallons in 2011 to 4,886,580 in 2012.
Greenhouse gas emissions reduced 4.4 percent between 2009 and 2012, but had increased slightly from 2011.
County staff would have to investigate to find exactly why emissions rose in the past year, but David Dise, director of General Services, speculated to the committee that decreases in the number of employees and county contracts could have played a role by increasing the miles driven.
Although reducing emissions is a goal of his division, Griffiths said it is only part of its driving equation.
“We want to reduce our costs, reduce our consumption of petroleum, and reduce our emissions,” he said.
Given the economic challenges of the past few years, it has been at least three years since the county has fully funded its vehicle replacement program, Griffiths said.
“At some point we have to prioritize what gets replaced,” he said.
Focusing on “right-sizing” the fleet to have the correct number of the correct vehicles for a given purpose is a key part of the strategy. Fleet Management will look carefully at which vehicles need replacing, evaluating more factors than just age or mileage, but also maintenance, condition, reliability and purpose, Griffiths said.
It also will evaluate the pros and cons of replacing existing vehicles with those that run on alternative fuels. Among the cons mentioned this past Thursday is an increased capital cost to build more infrastructure for fueling more vehicles.
As an example, the county has one fueling station with only two pumps for buses and waste trucks that operate on compressed natural gas. Drivers can wait hours in line at the Crabbs Branch Way station to fill pumps and filling can take as long as 5 minutes, Griffiths said.
But there also is risk in continuing to operate an aging fleet, ranging from increased wear and tear and increased maintenance to increased fuel costs, as fuel economy declines with age, he noted.
In 2010, the county averaged 15.7 miles per gallon on its vehicles, but that dropped to 14.7 miles per gallon in the current year as the vehicles aged. Among its administrative light-duty vehicles, the average age of a vehicle is 10 years.
Council members asked staff to also consider how the county could leverage its fleet to create economic development opportunities, possibly including alternative fueling stations or incentives like free parking for those who drive hybrid, electric or other greener vehicles.