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8/24/18  5:45 pm
Commenter: Chris Atkins, Virginia Propane Gas Association

Propane's Role In the 2018 Virginia Energy Plan

The Virginia Propane Gas Association encourages the utilization of propane as a renewable fuel source in the Virginia Energy Plan. The Virginia Energy Plan presents a unique opportunity for our state to accelerate the adoption of environmentally-friendly renewable fuels and the propane marketers in Virginia are ready to engage in your efforts to include propane in the Virginia Energy Plan. 

Propane’s Commercial Successes

As states and municipalities adopt more demanding emissions standards, the value of clean burning propane will become more important than ever. Countless studies show that propane is the best choice that construction professionals can make to help businesses, schools, and other properties reduce their emissions — without sacri?cing the performance they need for space and water heating, combined heat and power, and power generation. The major areas where propane serves as the idea energy source are:

• Space Heating

• Micro-Combined Heat & Power

• Water Heating

• Power Generation

The key benefits of using of propane energy in the commercial space is that propane can produce heat and electric power at a lower emissions rate than electricity and diesel. By operating more e?ciently, mCHP systems cut energy costs as well as greenhouse gas, SOx, and NOx emissions.

Propane’s Residential Successes

American homeowners are paying more attention than ever to their carbon footprint, from the cars they drive, right down to their home appliances. Propane has proven to be the best way environmentally-conscious homeowners can reduce their emissions for space and water heating, clothes drying, and cooking.

With a propane furnace, homeowners have a cleaner source of home heat than electric furnaces, Energy Star-rated and standard electric heat pumps, and heating oil. For lower emissions, propane storage tank and tankless water heaters outperform electric models. Propane is also the best choice for energy efficiency that cuts homeowners’ energy bills, and keeps up with heavy water heater usage. In clothes drying, propane the unique benefit of reducing greenhouse gases while also drying clothes faster, with a more moist heat to maintain the quality of the fabric. Beyond reducing harmful emissions*, propane ranges give homeowners the best cooking experience available.

Propane Vehicles’ Successes

Propane has a proven track record as a transportation fuel in fleets across the country.  Right now, the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) estimates that there are nearly 200,000 propane-powered vehicles on the road in the U.S.  Worldwide, propane is the third most utilized auto fuel, behind the conventional fuels of gasoline and diesel.  The popularity of propane as an alternative fuel has led to its growing adoption in the United States, particularly by fleets.  Both public and private sector organizations have found success in adopting propane vehicles into the fleets of various sizes.  These include light duty, medium duty, and school bus applications . 

According to PERC, some of the advantages for fleets to switch to propane autogas-fueled vehicles include:

• Lower total-cost-of-ownership

• Comparable performance to conventional fuels

• Onsite fueling

• Reduced maintenance

• Lower emissions 

There are several companies that offer both OEM and aftermarket conversions for propane vehicles.  This variety allows fleet managers to select the option that best fits their need.  Also, as the technology continues to improve, fleets will see better fuel economy, more power output, and even lower emissions from propane-powered engines.

Propane’s Role in the Energy Plan

One of the most successful adoptions of propane vehicles has been school bus fleets.  With the ability to install refueling apparatus cost effectively and easily on site, propane marketers have worked with school districts across the country to switch over to propane models.  More than 12,000 propane-powered school buses transport 700,000 students safely every day.  In Virginia, 188 propane-powered buses are already on the road, serving the community.  It is important to highlight that propane school buses are eligible for 100 percent of the replacement costs under the Volkswagen Settlement .  This makes their adoption using these funds very attractive to school districts in Virginia.  

When considering the use of propane in the Virginia Energy Plan, it is important to highlight potential NOx reductions.  This is where propane-powered school buses are a winning choice for Virginia.  According to data from Argonne National Laboratory, if Virginia were to replace all 7,739 eligible for this settlement with new, clean-burning propane models, there would be a 92 percent reduction in NOx.  As an additional benefit, there would be a 98 percent reduction in particulate matter (PM) and a 91 percent reduction in tailpipe Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) .

Already in Virginia, there are 10 school districts that have buses running on clean burning propane.  Students on these buses are experiencing these clean air benefits.  There is also the added advantage that propane autogas engines are approximately 50 percent quieter than diesel engines, which makes it easier for drivers to hear approaching emergency vehicles and be aware of student bullying . And propane performs excellent in cold weather, and does not require plug-in heaters or extended idling to warm up the engine for maximum performance. Propane school buses will not expose students to harmful particulate matter found in diesel exhaust, which is known to escalate breathing-related issues and aggravate asthma. When factoring in all of the benefits, there is no doubt that investing in propane powered school buses would be one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing the excess NOx. 

In addition to the performance benefits, propane autogas is non-toxic and a non-contaminant of air, soil, and water resources. Unlike gasoline or diesel, propane autogas is a clean fuel that reduces or eliminates all concerns about fuel storage and refueling. Propane autogas infrastructure is more budget-friendly than many alternative fuels. You can install 10 propane autogas refueling stations for the price of one compressed natural gas station. Quick-connect nozzles also are revolutionizing the propane autogas refueling experience. These nozzles are securely locked to reduce fuel emissions and smell.

In addition to school buses, transit buses, shuttle buses, medium duty trucks, and other applications powered by propane are also eligible for funding under this settlement.  There are many “road-ready” applications that I am happy to discuss further.

Bang for the Buck

As highlighted above, the Virginia Energy Plan should maintain the focus on offsetting excess NOx emissions.  Here, the data is clear that propane is an effective way of decreasing emissions.  This is not only true when comparing the older, eligible diesel engines with modern propane engines, but also when comparing propane engines to the best, modern diesel platform.  For Type C school buses, diesel engines emit 18 percent more NOx than comparable propane models .  And according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification data, the NOx savings by choosing the best-in-class propane engine can be as high as 81 percent .

This “bang-for-the-buck” goes further when factoring in other bus ownership costs.  For maintenance, a school district can expect to save $2,000-$2,500 per bus per year.  This is due to propane buses requiring fewer fluids and filters to keep running.  And for price, wholesale propane falls between the price of oil and natural gas, the two sources of the fuel.  This makes propane price competitive with the conventional fuels.  For comparison, according to the most recent Clean Cities data, the price of propane is almost 50 cents-per-gallon cheaper than diesel .  This figure does not take into account the savings that occur from individual propane marketers negotiating favorable pricing with fleet managers.

It’s also important to look at what the marketplace already offers for NOx reduction.  For instance, the Energy Plan could consider electric forklifts.  I would discourage you from focusing on these.  The forklift market already has a NOx reducing option—propane.  By supporting electric forklifts, it would take money away from applications that can better reduce harmful diesel emissions.  Instead, continue to focus Virginia’s mitigation plan on where the best “bang for the buck” exists. 

Nearly half of the electricity that powers electric vehicles in (STATE) is produced by coal. This means using electricity can only accomplish half of what propane can do in reducing NOx emissions. By focusing on charging stations, the halfway NOx reduction figure won't improve. Electric cars may be Zero Emission, but the coal power plants that produce electricity are not.

Fuel Availability

America’s current domestic energy renaissance has meant drastic increases in the production of propane.  Propane has traditionally been viewed as a byproduct of the oil refining process.  However, the increase in production from natural gas processing has shifted this perception.  In 2014, there was enough propane produced from the domestic natural gas supply to meet about 98 percent of the U.S.’s consumer and petrochemical demand.  The increase of domestic production has led to record high levels of propane in recent years.  Production is forecasted to continue to increase , ensuring a steady supply of this American-made fuel.

In the last ten years, the United States as gone from being a net importer to a net exporter of propane.  In fact, we are currently exporting nearly 10 billion gallons of propane annually.  That’s the equivalent of the fuel needed for 4 million fleet vehicles.  Energy security and independence has been a goal of the United States for many years.  By using more of our domestically produced propane, we can continue to decrease the reliance on foreign-sourced fuel.  

In order to get this large propane supply to the consumer transportation market, the industry relies on a network of public and private refueling stations.  Nationwide, there are more than 3,600 stations ready to supply consumers with propane.  In Virginia, there are already 91 public and private stations .  As you can see, propane infrastructure is already in place to facilitate Virginia’s Energy Plan. 

Additionally, many fleet managers opt to install their own central refueling infrastructure to ease the adoption of propane into the transportation fleet.  Propane infrastructure is relatively easy and affordable to install and maintain.  Depending on the needs and equipment, the infrastructure installation costs can range from $37,000 - $175,000 .  When compared to competing alternative fuels, propane’s availability and accessibility is one of the most cost effective ways for adopting new technologies.   

Working with Virginia

This letter is the beginning of our dialogue on how propane can play a role as an renewable fuel source in the state’s energy plan.  Already in Virginia, there are 832 people employed by the propane industry.  The propane industry also is a significant contributor to Virginia’s economy, adding $684,531,000 to the state’s GDP .

Please use me as a resource as you examine the best ways to use propane as an renewable fuel source in the Virginia Energy Plan.  I am happy to connect you with propane businesses, propane users, and experts to better inform you of propane vehicles’ role in Virginia.

Please contact me with any questions: or (804) 648-6299 ext. 1004. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you in the future. 


Chris Atkins 

Executive Director

Virginia Propane Gas Association

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