BANGOR, Maine — Bangor Gas Co. has plenty of energy at its disposal, but when it comes to powering its fleet of vehicles, even it is still somewhat dependent on gasoline.
But officials at the 14-year-old natural gas company are hopeful that will change in the coming months.
“We’re trying to replace our entire fleet with natural gas-powered vehicles,” said Jon Kunz, manager of marketing and sales at Bangor Gas. “We’re using three gas-powered Honda Civics right now, but our trucks are still gasoline-powered.”
Besides replacing its vehicle fleet, Bangor Gas is in the process of building a new headquarters housing both its warehouse and office operations.
“The new location will not only allow us to consolidate our operations, but there is a high-pressure steel line right there, which decreases our infrastructure cost,” Kunz said.
Bangor Gas operates its business office on 21 Main St. and a warehouse space at Target Industrial Circle in Bangor. The new location, formerly occupied by Cablevision, is a 4-acre lot next to the General Electric plant on Maine Avenue.
“We bought it from the city in December,” said Kunz. “We’re doing site work and hopefully starting foundation work soon. It’s our hope that we can move in as early as October.”
In the meantime, Bangor Gas will patiently wait to replace its seven pickup trucks, three one-ton trucks, one big dump truck and two small dump trucks with gas-powered ones.
“There are two factors,” said Kunz. “General Motors and Chrysler are supposed to be offering natural gas trucks this year but haven’t rolled them out yet. Also, we need to have a quick filler station in place before upgrading our fleet.”
Bangor Gas has the area’s only natural gas “filling station” but it’s a “slow filler” that takes two hours to fill an eight-gallon tank with gas.
“It’s kind of putting the cart before the horse, so we really need a gas-dispensing station up here. I’m hoping we will see one here within a year because it would be a big savings,” said Kunz, who said Bangor Gas is getting 250 miles out of eight gallons of natural gas in each of its new cars.
Business has been booming the last couple years for Bangor Gas, which transports natural gas through lines installed all over Penobscot County, sells gas and provides bundled services to customers.
“Since 2008 we’ve noticed a big surge in requests for connections to gas lines,” Kunz said. “I’d say we get about 2,000 requests a year now. Of those, we can service about 1,000.”
While the switch to natural gas-powered transportation happened much earlier in Portland, which saw its first compressed natural gas, or CNG, buses hit the road in 2006, it has proceeded at a slow pace.
“We now have 13 Orion VII CNG buses in service, and the Portland School Department is using nine more,” said Steve Kirby, director of finance for the Greater Portland Transit District. “We’re geared toward an all-CNG fleet eventually.”
Kirby said he would like to phase in natural-gas powered buses — there are now 19 that use gasoline or diesel — and replace the entire fleet by 2022.
Even with a high initial cost for conversion, maintenance and construction of a fast-fill compressor station — which Kirby estimated around $2 million total — the district is realizing significant savings.
“The trade-off is because you’re turning the air so much in your building — three times an hour in the wintertime — we use a lot of natural gas to keep it heated,” said Kirby. “But we still save about $125,000 to $150,000 a year. You should be around 40 percent in savings, generally speaking.”