Go natural

City of Sacramento’s garbage fleet spares air, saves money

The city’s blue garbage and refuse trucks will help save the environment—and money.

The city’s blue garbage and refuse trucks will help save the environment—and money.

Photo courtesy of the city of Sacramento

See blue—and see green.

That’s what Keith Leech, chairman of the Sacramento Clean Cities Coalition, wants residents to know when they see the city of Sacramento’s blue garbage and refuse trucks out at work.

In addition to being eco-friendly—the trucks are cleaner because they run on natural gas—there are also economic benefits.

While the cost of a natural-gas vehicle is typically higher than its gasoline counterpart, and vehicles require 1.7 gallons of liquefied natural gas to equal 1 gallon of petroleum, natural gas costs on average one-third less than petroleum.

Additionally, by replacing older trucks with newer natural-gas ones, the city save the money spent on repairs and replacement parts and the cost of running trucks on diesel fuel.

According to Leech, new trucks cost approximately $300,000 each, and average $20,000 t0 $25,000 on maintenance a year, while older trucks could cost as much as $85,000 a year to keep in working condition.

With more than 80 percent of his fleet running on natural gas, Leech hopes to bring in more blues to keep the city green.

The Clean Cities Coalition is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy Vehicle Technologies Program with a goal to reduce petroleum use in transportation. There are nearly 100 Clean Cities Coalitions nationwide, with several in Northern California.

“California is [leading the field] of working with alternative fuel and advanced-technology vehicles,” said Leech. “Our fleet here in the city was one of the first natural-gas refuse fleets.”

Leech, also the fleet manager for the city of Sacramento, hopes to educate and encourage others to join him and fellow Clean Cities supporters in reducing the consumption of petroleum with natural gas.

“Natural gas is very clean,” Leech reminded.

According to information provided by the California Air Resources Board, natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons consisting mainly of methane, and is domestically produced. It is nontoxic and will not contaminate groundwater. Vehicles operating on natural gas can reduce smog-forming emissions of carbon monoxide by 70 percent, and non-methane organic gas and oxides of nitrogen by 87 percent. Natural-gas vehicles also emit 20 percent fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline-powered vehicles.

The city started buying natural-gas trucks 10 years ago. There are currently more than 200 natural-gas refuse trucks in operation in Sacramento, which uses well in excess of 1.5 million gallons of liquefied natural gas per year. The State Alternative Fuels Plan is designed to reduce petroleum dependence by 20 percent by 2020, and increase alternative fuels use to 26 percent of all fuel consumed by 2022.

Currently, Leech’s fleet uses natural gas from Clean Energy Fuels in Southern California. Larger transit operators, such as Sacramento Regional Transit, use compressed natural gas that comes right off of the PG&E pipeline.

The city and county of Sacramento received a grant of more than $1 million each to fund their fueling infrastructures.

“It’s expensive,” said Leech. “That’s why organizations like Clean Cities look for smaller fleets, both public and private, to partner up for opportunities to [create more inexpensive fueling infrastructures].”

One of the newest projects in development to advance the usage of natural gas comes from a partnership between Clean World Partners, an organization dedicated to converting organic waste to renewable energy, and Allied Waste Services of Sacramento. Trucks will pick up organic materials from local restaurants, take it back to the site, and turn the waste into compressed natural gas with an anaerobic digester.

“It’s an exciting project. It’s going to get scaled up over the next few years,” said Leech.