By Arielle Stevenson
Tampa International Airport officially opened Florida’s first airport-based public natural gas fueling station on March 9, 2012.
Airport CEO Joe Lopano snipped a thick green bow to mark the fueling station opening, which provides low-cost fuel that burns cleaner than conventional gasoline.
The airport expects to save $1 million on fuel costs over the next five years while at the same time protecting the environment, tapping into an American natural resource and reducing dependence on foreign oil.
Tampa International Airport plans to convert at least 72 percent of its 115-vehicle fleet to compressed natural gas over the next 10 years. About 16 percent has already been converted.
“We will break even on our investments in five years,” Lopano told the crowd that gathered at the station for the ribbon-cutting.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who serves on the Tampa International Airport board of directors, told the group the city has also purchased five vehicles that will trim the city’s annual fuel costs.
“We get to do good by doing right,” Buckhorn said, emphasizing the importance of minimizing reliance on foreign oil and taking steps to protect the environment.
“Let’s multiply this by thousands and thousands of vehicles and this place will be a better world,” he said.
California-based Clean Energy is operating the fuel station and compressing natural gas delivered from TECO/People’s Gas in Tampa.
“Compressed natural gas or CNG is cleaner and cheaper,” said Clean Energy Vice President Marc Klein, noting that it emits 30-percent less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.
Right now, it also costs about $1.50 less per gallon than gasoline. And it’s a resource readily available domestically.
“The United States has been called the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” Klein said. “We have an abundance here.”
Benefits go beyond just economics and environmental protection.
“It’s quieter too which adds to the quality of life,” Bruce Narzissenfeld, Vice President at TECO Peoples Gas said.
Anddrikk Frazier manages business development for alternative fuel vehicles at TECO partners. He drives a bi-fuel Ford Focus, which can run on either traditional gasoline or natural gas. He paid extra for the conversion, but expects to earn back the investment in gas savings.
“That economic piece of this puzzle has to work,” Frazier said. “All in all, natural gas is about one-eighth the cost.”
Some cars, like the Honda Civic natural gas model, are built direct from the manufacturer with the technology.
The Tampa International Airport fueling station located at 4750 West South Avenue in Tampa and is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.