New alternative fuel could save consumers money at the pump, CNG at $1.59/gallon could come to Prairie du Chien
By Correne Martin
Strategies are abound for drivers to cut their pain at the pump. Observing the speed limit and clearing extra items from a vehicle could save a driver between 5 and 15 percent on gasoline costs. But the wave of the future, compressed natural gas, or CNG, can do more for drivers than just that. It boasts a potential savings of 50 percent or more at the pump as well as benefits to the environment and the U.S. economy.
Kwik Trip has become the first privately-held company to offer the more affordable CNG fuel to the public. The company has opened 14 stations so far this year and plans for a total of 25 by the end of 2013.
Prairie du Chien has been considered as a possible site to offer CNG. Representatives from the Crawford County Land Conservation Department, Kwik Trip, the Prairie du Chien School District, Bluebird Bus Company and American Power have held discussions about the idea.
Kwik Trip has begun developing a CNG vehicle fuel infrastructure throughout its chain of 400-plus stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, by installing pumps at its interstate retail locations. If Prairie du Chien was selected as a future site, the community would be one of the first located away from an interstate.
“We are evaluating all areas,” said Joel Hirschboeck, superintendent of alternative fuels for Kwik Trip, noting that Dubuque is another potential location. “We have to consider potential demand, amount of traffic through an area, and where a store is situated on the grid of our basic infrastructure.”
CNG is the next big alternative to unleaded gas for American drivers. This is for three key reasons, according to Hirschboeck. First, when comparing the steady price of $1.59 per gallon of CNG to the $3 to $4 consumers have come to expect for gasoline, it’s easy to see that the cost of fueling up could be cut in half. Second, compressed natural gas is harvested in the U.S., and industry experts say there is at least a 100-year supply in the nation. Third, it’s the cleanest fuel on the market, producing 90 percent less emissions and 25 percent less greenhouse gases.
“For the same amount of energy and the same miles per gallon, you’re saving money, the dollars you spend are going back into the U.S. economy and its cleaner for the environment,” Hirschboeck explained.
Since Kwik Trip started carrying CNG last April, the cost of the fuel has not wavered from $1.59 per gallon. But converting a vehicle to run on that or purchasing a new vehicle with the CNG upgrade can cost upwards of $10,000.
Hirschboeck said, depending on the vehicle and the amount of miles a driver travels, the original investment could be recouped within 24 to 36 months of ownership. Those driving a heavy duty truck might see payback within one year.
Tom Zieja, owner of Z’s Lawn and Landscaping, La Crosse, said the savings he’s seen at the pump are quickly paying off that premium vehicle price. He said he’s saving $2 per gallon every time he fills up his natural gas bi-fuel pick up.
“At the end of the month I save anywhere between $375-$400,” Zieja said.
Bi-fuel vehicles like Zieja’s allow drivers to switch between “CNG when they have it and gas when they don’t,” said Chris Schneider, president and natural gas vehicle guru at Honda Motorwerks, La Crosse. Honda also factory-produces light-weight vehicles, such as the Civic, with the “dedicated CNG” system, which doesn’t have the option to switch to gas.
Honda Motorwerks has been involved in the natural gas vehicle (NGV) movement since 2006, selling used NGVs. In 2009, the dealership became certified by American Honda to sell new NGVs.
“Last year, we sold as many NGVs as the two years prior,” Schneider said. “That’s really great growth and we’re happy to see it. But we’re stymied that we still have 30 NGVs in stock.”
Schneider compared the estimated annual fuel costs for a Honda Civic, at $1,042, to that of the dealership’s most popular vehicle, the Honda CRV, at $2,150. He said those numbers (from the Environmental Protection Agency) show that the average driver would save over $1,000 in fuel per year if they drove a CNG vehicle.
Drivers not in the market for a new vehicle may convert their current automobile to CNG power. Hirschboeck said there are a handful of dealers in the area who offer conversions, although they aren’t as ideal. Conversions aren’t available on all makes and models either.
Though the closest CNG stations and dealerships are in La Crosse at this time, local consumers will want to pay attention to what happens next. It could mean more cost-saving options close to home.
For Prairie du Chien’s Sut Hill, whose auto dealership sells Lincoln, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram, he’s waiting and watching this new market.
“I have interest in them, and Ford says they’re going to build them this year,” Hill stated. “With the fluctuating cost of gas, it’s certainly the wave of the future, and it is much better for the environment.”
As Kwik Trip pushes forward in a successful Midwestern leader in natural gas offerings, the company and its own distribution fleet, Convenience Transportation, own and operate over 30 NGVs, ranging from light-duty vehicles to heavy-duty class eight semis. In addition, they plan to continue converting until their entire fleet is using natural gas.
“Through our own anchor fleet, we can test, promote and educate Kwik Trip consumers about the benefits of natural gas as a vehicle fuel,” Hirschboeck said. “Kwik Trip’s goal is to promote and market the knowledge that it acquires from purchasing, operating and maintaining its own NGV fleet.”
For more information, call the Alternative Fuels Office at (855) 710-3800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current CNG Sites
La Crosse-Cass Street
La Crosse-Kwik Trip Way
Minnesota City, MN
St. Michael, MN
Cedar Falls, IA
Upcoming 2013 Builds
Albert Lea, MN