While high fuel costs can threaten a business’s bottom line, the stakes are even higher for nonprofits that serve the public. A network of comprehensive community mental health centers in Mississippi, Community Counseling Services transports hundreds of clients a week to 30 different locations across seven counties. But when rising fuel costs started to impact the mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities services the organization could provide, Community Counseling Services turned to the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program — a project of the Energy Department’s Clean Cities initiative — to convert much of its fleet to run on less expensive propane fuel.
Like many fleet managers who have transitioned their fleets to alternative fuels, Community Counseling Services’ former facilities and maintenance supervisor Lin Newell was inspired by the success of others when he saw two Mississippi sherrif departments using propane vehicles. “I couldn’t believe how much they were saving on fuel costs,” he said. “If these law enforcement vehicles were running great on propane autogas in such a demanding environment, then this was the fuel for my fleet.”
Eager to make the change for his own fleet, Newell contacted the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program, a project to deploy propane vehicles and infrastructure from Pennsylvania to Florida. With the program’s financial and technical support, Community Counseling Services converted 29 vans to run on propane. The project also helped the nonprofit install its own propane station on-site. However, because of the large distance the fleet covers, on-site fueling wasn’t enough. By working with other program participants, the fleet now has access to propane fueling stations throughout its service territory, ensuring that Community Counseling Services will never be without the fuel it needs. The project also taught the organization’s technicians and drivers how to safely maintain and fuel the vehicles.
These days, Community Counseling Services is seeing its decision pay off. It’s saving more than a $1.50 per gallon on fuel, adding up to more than $60,000 a year. Instead of spending this money on fuel, the organization is able to reinvest these savings to improve and expand its services — allowing the organization to fund extra projects and meet the unexpected needs of its clients. By switching to a largely domestic fuel, the fleet is also increasing U.S. energy security by using 30,000 fewer gallons of gasoline each year.
The organization is so satisfied with the vehicles’ performance and cost savings that it’s using its own funding to convert six more vans, as well as two maintenance vehicles and a service vehicle to run on propane. Beyond its own fleet, Community Counseling Services’ chief operating and financial officer Richard Duggin has been personally encouraging similar organizations around the state to make the switch. “From the upper level of management down, this is something we strongly believe in,” he said.
Community Counseling Services is just one success story of many for the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program, which helped 28 organizations convert their vehicles to propane. Through $8.6 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $10.4 million from its partners, the project put more than 1,200 light-duty propane vehicles on the road and installed 11 propane fueling stations. This project wouldn’t have been possible without Virginia Clean Cities, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and their industry partners. Virginia Clean Cities educated fleets on the alternative fuel options available, helping fleets meet their needs while maximizing their savings.
Starting with education on the technology and ending with driver training, this project shows how Clean Cities coalitions help fleets go petroleum-free from start to finish.