20 August 2012

Future of Energy

Article originally appeared in Traverse City Record Eagle.
Energy, transportation, and packaging can be high costs for a business. As these costs continue to increase and uncertainty grows, it's important for businesses in our region to look at how to best utilize all available resources and options.
The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce works to be a convener to help identify best practices and opportunities. A recent example is DTE Energy's pursuit of a natural gas vehicle fueling station in Traverse City. To the Chamber, it made sense to see what other organizations could benefit from this opportunity, and how it could play a role in the Chamber's objective to keep more money flowing in the region versus exporting it elsewhere.
The Chamber commissioned a study with funding from DTE to look at two of the area's largest transportation providers: Traverse City Area Public Schools and Bay Area Transportation Authority. The  six-month process reviewed current costs for both TCAPS and BATA and compared those costs to best practices used by other agencies around the country. The recently released report found that 20 percent of transit fleets in the United States are using compressed natural gas (CNG) and that more than 2,800 school busses had already been converted to CNG in other districts.
The report looked out 10 years at costs of busses, fuel, infrastructure changes to maintenance facilities, and the cost for a fueling station. The report showed that after an initial capital outlay for the fueling station, both TCAPS and BATA will see savings on fuel costs. These savings will materially impact the daily expenses and services provided by both agencies.
Does conversion work? The Blue Water Transit operation in Michigan's thumb converted its fleet to CNG and saw immediate savings on fuel costs. In other areas around the state DTE has installed more than 16 fueling stations. It's using in excess of 200 CNG vehicles in its own fleet and working to provide fuel for fleets of other businesses.
What's next for developing a CNG station in northern Michigan? Both TCAPS and BATA need to work on a timetable and commitment to phasing in the purchase of CNG vehicles. The report showed that for best cost savings these purchases should be part of the regularly budgeted replacement of current vehicles.
The Chamber believes that there is opportunity in times of economic uncertainty. That means looking at all of the resources available. The Chamber and several of its community partners see the potential conversion of fleets to CNG as one step in the right direction. However, each organization realizes more needs to be done to ensure a reliable energy future. To that extent, the Chamber's collaborative energy policy continues to be relevant and — working with its partners — the Chamber will continue to seek ways to best utilize available resources and develop the region's energy future.

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