Oktibbeha sheriff's cars running on propane

By Tim Pratt/The Commercial Dispatch

STARKVILLE — Oktibbeha County Sheriff Dolph Bryan considers himself a car guy.

So when the city of Starkville last year was approved for $106,800 in stimulus funds to convert vehicles to a new gasoline – and propane-based fuel system, the sheriff of 35 years admits he was curious to know more.

“I didn’t know how they were going to run,” Bryan said.

The funds were split between the city, Oktibbeha County and Mississippi State University. On Wednesday, the 14th and final Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office vehicle was converted to the new gas – and propane-powered fuel system and, so far, the cars have been running smoothly, Bryan said.

“I can’t believe how good these cars run on it,” Bryan said, “and I’m hard to please.”

One Starkville Electric Department vehicle and three Mississippi State University vehicles have yet to be converted.

Gasoline is used to start the vehicles and as a secondary fuel system, but propane is the primary power source. Bryan drove to Southaven Tuesday with the new propane system in his vehicle and said the car lurches briefly when switching fuel sources, but otherwise the performance hasn’t changed.

“You really can’t tell the difference,” he said.

Only vehicles with 200,000 miles or less were fitted with the new systems. Each new system cost $6,000 and was installed in West Point, Bryan said, though the stimulus funds covered the entire cost of the project.

“It didn’t cost the county a dime,” Bryan said.

With the price of gas increasing to more than $3 per gallon in recent weeks, the Sheriff’s Office will decrease fuel spending by about 33 percent. The cost of gasoline Thursday morning averaged about $3.14 per gallon across the region, but the cost of propane was only $2.09 per gallon. Vehicles running on the new propane systems will average about 14.5 miles per gallon, which is about the same as the 14-miles-per-gallon rate found in vehicles still operating exclusively on gasoline, Bryan said.

The Sheriff’s Office has set up a temporary fueling station beside the county jail. Plans are in the works to build a new, permanent fueling station.

The city, county and Mississippi State University will receive a $.50 credit from the federal government for every gallon of propane used by newly fitted vehicles, Bryan said.

Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill said the project is just part of the city’s ongoing sustainability effort. The city in 2008 became the first municipality in Mississippi to adopt a sustainability policy.

“We’re obviously delighted to continue our efforts in regards to all things environmentally friendly,” Spruill said. “I would like to see this expanded to other vehicles.”