1. Transportation

Pasco School Board okays natural gas bus fleet

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco School District has opted to go it alone as it moves toward fueling its buses with natural gas.

After hearing a pitch last year from Nopetro of Coral Gables to partner on a compressed natural gas fueling station, the School Board on Tuesday night approved building its own fueling station at a transportation compound on Interlaken Drive in Odessa at a cost of $6.2 million. The supplier will be Clearwater Gas System, which has a pipeline running nearby, along the State Road 54 corridor.

The board vote is the first step toward putting natural gas-powered school buses on Pasco's roads in January 2017. Compressed natural gas, also known as CNG, is considered cleaner and less costly than diesel fuel. The vehicles run quieter and produce less pollution than their diesel counterparts.

Nopetro had proposed to retrofit the district's west-side bus garage on Pine Hill Road as a CNG station and wanted the School Board to purchase 130 natural gas buses at a projected cost of $18 million. Under that plan, Nopetro would have operated the fueling station and shared royalties with the district on sales to other customers.

"We think we're perfectly capable of running our own gas station,'' said deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said of the district's own initiative.

The district plan allows it to replace a portion of its 430-vehicle fleet with natural gas buses over several years. It is likely to start with about three dozen buses.

Locating the station near SR 54 instead of in an industrial area of Port Richey also puts the facility "in the area where we see the most growth,'' Gadd said.

Pitching gas sales to the public isn't expected for the first few years, he said.

Potential customers could include Pasco's waste haulers. County commissioners have said they want to encourage trash haulers to convert to natural gas vehicles, and Republic Services has set a national goal of having 3,100 of its trucks running on natural gas or other alternative fuels by the end of this year.