By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
FLOWOOD – Pontotoc Mayor Jeff Stafford said he hopes the conversion of five city vehicles to be fueled by compressed natural gas is just the beginning for his city.
“We have been researching this for five years,” Stafford said of converting city vehicles to run on natural gas instead of more expensive gasoline. “When I ran for re-election, one of my campaign promises was to get gas cheaper.”
Stafford was on hand Wednesday in a busy section of Rankin County in suburban Jackson as the NGA Solutions announced the opening of the first commercial fueling station for vehicles that run on natural gas. The cost on Wednesday was $1.99 per gallon.
In coordination with the ribbon-cutting was the announcement that Pontotoc, along with the cities of Flowood in the Jackson area and Quitman in south Mississippi, was converting a small portion of its vehicle fleets with the intention of converting many more in the future.
The cities are taking advantage of zero-interest loans from the state, in a program created by the 2012 Legislature, to pay for much of the costs of the conversion.
In Pontotoc, Stafford said at least $60,000 in state loan funds will be used to build a fueling station there for city vehicles.
“We want everybody to see it work,” Stafford said, adding eventually the fueling station opened in Pontotoc would be available to the public. The city of Pontotoc is equipped to open a fueling station because it already operates a large natural gas provider.
Currently, there are only about 1,000 commercial natural gas fueling stations in the country, though estimates say there will be 12,000 by 2015.
State Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie, who attended the ribbon-cutting, said he spent about $6,200 to convert his Chevrolet truck to run on natural gas. He said the truck can be filled up at Mantachie Natural Gas, but it is a much longer process than at a specially equipped vehicle fueling station like the one opened Wednesday in Flowood.
He said when he travels he has to map out a route where he knows he can refuel. Of course, if problems occur, he can convert back to traditional gas until he finds a natural gas fueling station.
Currently, in Mississippi a few companies with large fleets, such as Waste Management, have converted some of their vehicles to natural gas.
Gov. Phil Bryant, who also attended the ribbon-cutting, said he is working to convert much of the state fleet. He said that is his goal, because it is a much cheaper and cleaner energy that is abundant in Mississippi.
He said as the conversion kit becomes cheaper more people will convert their vehicles. Plus, many auto manufacturers now are producing vehicles that run on natural gas.
“This is a clean fuel that gives out almost no byproduct into the atmosphere,” he said. “This is a wonderful example of what we are trying to do.”
In Pontotoc, Stafford said his truck is being converted along with other high mileage vehicles. He said as more vehicles are converted the city’s fuel costs will be reduced, providing additional funds for other services.