Does CNG save money? Our FOX 13 investigation’s results

Posted at 11:10 PM, May 22, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - Last fall, FOX 13 started an investigation to see how much money we could save with natural gas, and the results are in.

FOX 13 spends about $10,000 a month on gasoline for our news vehicles, which adds up to an average of $500 per vehicle every month.

EnergyWise approached FOX 13 about a project to see whether natural gas would be a money-saver for the station, so we converted one of our news vehicles to a bi-fuel system, which means it burns either gasoline or compressed natural gas.

The conversion process took four days to complete and was labor-intensive. EnergyWise says the conversion would cost about $7,000 on average.

Supporters say CNG is a cheaper alternative to gasoline, plus it pumps fewer pollutants into the air.

To see whether CNG is truly the better option, we had FOX 13 News reporter Ashton Goodell drive the car around for seven months.

"Well, at first we had to take it in for maintenance maybe like once a month for the first three or four months. But it has gotten a lot better," Ashton said.

Ashton can sometimes drive 100 to 200 miles a day.

"One week I went to Moab and Huntington and Price. I mean, we cover this state," she said.

So we've been keeping track of the numbers to see how quickly we should break even on the cost of conversion.

"Fuel costs have gone down for that vehicle. Went from 19 cents a mile to 16 cents a mile," said Jennifer Nash, a controller with FOX 13.

That three-cent reduction works out to about $520 a year, which is a 16 percent savings. Nash says that at that rate, it will take awhile to make up the $7,000 conversion cost.

Based on current gasoline and natural gas prices, it would take more than 13 years to break even on the conversion. But if gasoline prices continue to rise like they've done in the past, and natural gas prices stay flat, that break-even point could come a lot sooner.

The finances aren't the only contributor to a change in fuel source. The natural gas tank is smaller than a standard gas tank, and stations are harder to find than regular convenience stores, plus winter-time driving can be a problem.

"If it dipped below 30 degrees it would just not work. I had to switch it over to gasoline," Ashton said.

Ashton said there are also some interesting benefits.

"People come up to me and say, 'Oh, this is the FOX car. This is the FOX car,' well, we have a lot of FOX cars, but is the FOX car. This is the one on natural gas," she said. "You see that sticker on the back, and you're, like, 'You know what? She's pretty awesome. Yeah. I want to know her."

When FOX went back to EnergyWise to talk about the results, their offices were empty.

"The CNG EnergyWise guys? Yeah, they're gone. They've been gone for a couple months. I don't know if they're out of business. They just moved out," employees at the office next door said.

It turns out EnergyWise had gone out of business. They say car companies are selling alternate fuel vehicles at prices that they're unable to compete with, and they were forced out of business.

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Does CNG save money? FOX 13 investigates