Oct. 11, 2011

Choice Environmental Services Chooses Natural Gas

In our bidding for residential collection contracts, we realized that the main unknown was projecting diesel fuel cost five to seven years into the future. We found that the price of CNG was much more stable than diesel and we were given the option to lock in fuel price guarantees.      
Tony Ciofalo, Vice President, Choice Environmental Services

Choice Environmental, a wholly owned subsidiary of Swisher Hygiene, Inc., a residential, commercial and industrial solid waste services company headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the first refuse company in Florida to convert a portion of its operations to compressed natural gas (CNG).

"Choice provides solid waste and recycling collection, transportation, processing, and disposal services to customers throughout Florida. In our bidding for residential collection contracts, we realized that the main unknown was projecting diesel fuel cost five to seven years into the future," said Vice President Tony Ciofalo. "We found that the price of CNG was much more stable than diesel and we were given the option to lock in fuel price guarantees."

With natural gas selling for about $1.50 less than diesel per gallon, the potential cost savings for a truck using 10,000 gallons a year is around $15,000.

Environmental considerations also played a part in the switch to natural gas. The chance to help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil is "a very big deal for us," said CEO Glen Miller. "We believe opting to use domestic natural gas is better for our company, for our customers, and the economy as a whole."

Going Green

Achieving a clean, green operating profile is another key objective of the ongoing transformation of the Choice fleet.

"The use of natural gas has been shown to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 23%. We know that the Florida communities we serve consider protecting air quality a very important issue," Miller said. "So we brand each truck as 'Powered by Natural Gas-The Green Choice for Florida.'"

Choice Environmental has 14 CNG collection trucks serving residential and commercial customers in Broward County and intends to add two commercial route vehicles in the next few months. The current fueling infrastructure is a private time-fill station in Pompano Beach, Florida, built by Clean Energy and leased by Choice. Choice intends to maximize the Pompano facility by replacing the 30 remaining diesel trucks at Pompano with CNG vehicles.

Natural gas collection trucks have been a hit with both drivers and maintenance staff. Drivers appreciate the reduction in diesel emissions while running their routes. Lower maintenance costs has also been an extremely pleasant surprise, said Ciofalo.

"We have compared apples to apples, comparing the latest diesel emissions technology with the CNG trucks and found there is significantly less maintenance required on CNG trucks than on our comparable diesel trucks."

Considerations

One impediment to quick fleet conversion is the municipal contract bidding process. The bid window from the award date to start date is often very small: Operations sometimes have to be up and running in 90 days. The typical timeframe for taking delivery on CNG vehicles and building the necessary CNG infrastructure is approximately six months.

Clean Energy had a very short time window to design, permit, and complete station construction. The fueling facility had to be up and running when the new CNG trucks arrived to start the Fort Lauderdale contract. Clean Energy made the deadline with time to spare.

"Natural gas has become very well accepted in the solid waste industry," said Ciofalo. "Choice Environmental has found overwhelming success with its use of CNG and looks forward to expanding its CNG fleet."

Photo of a refuse truck. Side of truck reads, Choice, powered by natural gas.