According to the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program (SPADP), which is providing 100 percent funding for the conversions, the change will also eliminate about 130 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
The SPADP program is managed by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and Virginia Clean Cities at James Madison University. It is part of the nationwide Alliance Autogas program.
“We first switched six cruisers to propane as a test in 2009, using asset forfeiture funds,” said Sheriff Terry Langley. “We received the SPADP grant in 2010 to convert 30 additional vehicles.”
Langley said the conversion costs about $5,700 per vehicle, and most of the cars involved are the Ford Crown Victoria cruisers. He said the only expense to the sheriff’s office is the time for preparing quarterly reports to SPADP.
“We have a total of 38 vehicles operating now on propane,” said Capt. Ken Reeves, who administers the program for the sheriff’s office. “The cars are equipped to run on both propane and gasoline and can be quickly switched from one to the other.”
Reeves said the county has a propane fueling station at its garage next to the gasoline fueling site. The propane costs about $1.50 per gallon, with the federal government paying 50 cents per gallon of the cost. That compares with gasoline costs of $3 per gallon and more. He said the average patrol car travels about 30,000 miles each year.
Reeves said 10 more vehicles are being converted this year. His own Tahoe has been converted to use propane.
“Right now, we’ve completed four of the new 10,” he said. “We have six more, which are Chevrolets, and we’re waiting to get them certified to run on propane.”
Reeves said the vehicles run the same on both fuels and he notices no difference in operation.
“Of course, the propane burns cleaner, and it’s better for the air,” he added. “We also don’t have to get the oil changed as often.”
Langley said another big advantage of having two fuels and twin tanks is that it doubles the distance a car can travel before needing to refuel.
“That helps us tremendously with security when having to transport prisoners long distances,” he said.
Langley said the department began researching fuel alternatives because the fluctuations in gasoline prices were continually causing budget problems. He said propane autogas was the most practical option, and it’s been well received by county officers.
“At first, there were some questions about the flammability of the fuel, to which we explained that the fuel is as safe as gasoline,” he said. “In fact, the autogas tanks are many times more puncture resistant than gasoline tanks. With a little bit of education and fueling training, the officers felt comfortable operating the propane autogas vehicles.”
Langley called the move an “excellent one for the county” and said it has helped his department stay within its fuel budget.
“It’s a safe fuel that burns cleaner, and our officers like the performance,” he said. “I wish we’d made the switch sooner.”
Alliance Autogas is an integrated, nationwide partner network of propane retailers, equipment providers and certified conversion centers, providing fleets nationwide with a comprehensive autogas vehicle conversion and fueling solution. Alliance Autogas was founded by one of the nation’s largest independent propane companies, Blossman Gas, and alternative fuel systems specialists, American Alternative Fuel.