Officials try switching to natural gas BALTIMORE COUNTY


With the conversion last week of two trucks to natural gas Baltimore County government began experimenting with that fuel as a cleaner, cheaper alternative to liquid gasoline.

The county's efforts are part of a much larger campaign by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to promote natural gas for use in large vehicle fleets. BG&E; sells natural gas.

The utility company has 115 trucks now using natural gas, said Anthony J. Tangires, who heads the company's effort. Harford and Howard counties, state government, and commercial fleet owners such as Westinghouse also have vehicles using natural gas, he said.

Negotiations are under way with Anne Arundel and Carroll counties for similar pilot conversions. BG&E;'s goal is to get at least 25 fleet owning companies and governments involved in a pilot program, said Mr. Tangires. The U.S. Postal Service has 133 vehicles that can use either gasoline or natural gas.

BG&E; also is planning to put natural gas refueling points at several commercial gas stations in the Baltimore area this year, Mr. Tangires said. The company currently has fuel depots in Woodlawn, Glen Burnie, Timonium and near Camden Yards in downtown Baltimore.

The utility sees a potentially huge new market, said Mr. Tangires. Federal energy and air quality laws passed since 1990 require at least 30 percent of new fleet vehicle purchases by 1998 to use clean fuels. A BG&E; seminar on natural gas for all fleet owners is scheduled for June 16 at the Turf Valley Country Club in Howard County, he said.

Natural gas powered vehicles can be purchased new from major American vehicle manufacturers like Chrysler, he said. Natural gas vehicles have the advantage of using internal combustion engines to burn the fuel. Electrically powered vehicles are still in the development stage.

John E. Lutz, Baltimore County's director of central services, said a large county library step-van and a smaller delivery van converted in BG&E; garages will serve as training vehicles for county mechanics. Eight more county trucks will be converted to natural gas in the next few months, he said. New trucks purchased in the future probably will be fueled by natural gas, he said.

Because of the recession, Baltimore County hasn't bought any new vehicles for the past several years. So, Mr. Lutz decided to convert existing trucks. He said natural gas is cheaper, domestically produced, burns cleaner and is just as safe as liquid fuel.

But natural gas tanks are heavier, take up more space than liquid tanks, and fueling can take all night on a slow fuel terminal. There is a quick fueling terminal on BG&E; land in Timonium.

Mr. Tangires said both fueling speeds are available at about the same cost, but slow fueling better serves the needs of some fleets, such as the Postal Service, whose delivery trucks sit overnight.

The county's experimental effort came from its Energy Task Force Committee on Alternative Fuels.

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