More than seven hours into Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, tensions ran high as a stream of residents stepped up to oppose a proposed compressed natural gas fueling station contract.
The council took multiple five-minute recesses throughout the meeting as some exchanges between residents and the council became heated.
In a 4-3 vote, City Council approved a 15-year contract with Clean Energy, the nation’s largest supplier of natural gas, marking the first steps in the proposed construction of a compressed natural gas fueling station in Columbia.
Along with the nearly 23,000-square-foot compressed natural gas fueling station, set to be built on city-owned land in the northwest of Columbia, the council will move forward to purchase 11 natural gas-powered vehicles for city uses. The vehicles, which will comprise 15 percent of the city’s fleet, will include two 40-foot buses, two garbage trucks, five solid waste trucks and two one-ton trucks.
Proponents of the fueling station contract with Clean Energy cite the cost benefit of compressed natural gas compared to diesel. According to CNGprices.com, the cost of a gasoline gallon equivalent of compressed natural gas in Kansas City is $1.29, while ColumbiaGasPrices.com reports costs for a gallon of diesel up to $3.90.
Due to the cost savings, CNG could allow the city to have more buses in its fleet, Mayor Bob McDavid said.
“We either do this or we don’t,” McDavid said. “We either have CNG buses or we won’t. If we have buses that run on CNG, we will have more buses.”
Although council members were told early in 2013 that the city’s $10,000 contribution to the construction of the fueling station would be recovered in a year, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe expressed doubts regarding the financial burden of the contract.
It will now take four years just to make up for the cost of purchasing the natural gas running vehicles, Hoppe said.
“We were really told a much different story than where we are today,” Hoppe said.
By making the switch to compressed natural gas running vehicles, the city stands to receive $67,000 in savings, which it will be paid three years.
Advocates of the contract also cited the environmental benefits of using natural gas.
Using CNG to fund the city fleet makes sense, Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said.
“In the absence of the best solutions, we have to get into the least worse solutions,” Trapp said. “Financially, it becomes a necessity…. As a policy-maker, I have to make a pragmatic approach …. We have a budget to balance.”
Opponents to the Clean Energy contract held posters outside City Hall to demand an end to the fracking procedures needed to supply a natural gas fueling station.
Linda Green, a member of the executive committee of the local chapter of the Sierra Club and longtime Columbia resident, said she believed the council had no actual intentions of pursuing renewable energy as a permanent solution.
“They are throwing that out as a delaying tactic,” Green said. “That’s just a dead end. That’s what the industry would tell you.”
Instead, Green asked the council to refocus the city’s priorities and discontinue the pursuit of the contract with Clean Energy.
“I think they ought to drop the whole thing. It’s just a dead end,” Green said. “We need to focus energy and finances as much as possible on sustainable energy.”
Environmental concerns aside, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser expressed concerns with the financial reliability of the contract.
“My biggest concern is why are we subsidizing the (project) if it is such a good deal to open the plant?” Nauser said.