Police Now Turn Back From Fuel Alternative Warminster Tried Compressed Natural Gas. Some Officers Found Many Drawbacks.

Posted: November 22, 1992

You could say Warminster Township's police cars have run out of gas.

Compressed natural gas, to be more specific.

After two years of using the alternative fuel in their cruisers, township officials have pulled the plug on the project, opting for gasoline to power their fleet.

Warminster Manager Eugene McGough targeted poor handling as the reason the township supervisors scrapped the compressed natural gas (CNG) program. Police cars scheduled for purchase in 1993 will be gasoline-powered only.

There are 10 vehicles equipped for use with both gasoline and compressed gas, but McGough said the 150-pound CNG fuel tank in the trunk has caused both stability problems on turns and excessive tire wear.

The township has 20 police vehicles, including a recently purchased van. The van runs on natural gas only.

The gas is a derivative of the fuel used in home furnaces, water heaters and stoves. It is a cleaner-burning, cheaper fuel than gasoline, costing about 76 cents per gallon.

Despite the savings, some officers have expressed misgivings with the cars, complaining that when they are CNG-powered, the ride is sluggish. Others said they feared a gas leak and explosion.

Warminster is the only police department in the Philadelphia region to use CNG. A handful of companies and agencies, including Philadelphia Electric Co. and the state Department of Transportation, do likewise.

The police department currently refuels its vehicles at PE's CNG station in Warminster. The conversion of Warminster's cars for CNG was paid for through a $42,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Office.

Police Chief Elmer P. Clawges pushed to participate in the CNG project about two years ago after learning of the grants program.

He said he was sorry to see the program end in his department and hoped the township would transfer the CNG tanks for use in other township vehicles.

McGough said he had nothing against the CNG program but disagreed with the use of dual-fuel cars.

Clawges drives one of the CNG-equipped cars, and disagreed with McGough that there is a stabilization problem. He said he thought the tank has no greater effect on the ride than having two passengers in the rear seat of any car, but admitted that it reduces needed trunk space.

To compensate for the limited storage, the officers have downsized some gear, including items such as oxygen tanks and first aid equipment. A full- service spare tire has been replaced with the small temporary tire.

Clawges said the decreased space was "a small inconvenience," adding that officers must call for the police van to transport larger items such as bicycles that may be recovered after a theft.

He said the CNG cars had saved the township about $10,000 in decreased maintenance and fuel bills. The cars average about 15 miles per gallon using either fuel, Clawges said, but the use of CNG has reduced the need for tuneups and saves about 50 cents per gallon.

PE spokesman Michael Wood said he appreciated Clawges' support of the CNG program. He said the dual-fuel cars have a slight difference in performance, but does not feel the average driver would notice the change.

Additionally, Wood said the problem of reduced trunk space could be solved by purchasing a CNG-designed car. The sticker price of a CNG car is about $3,000 more than a conventional car, according to Wood, but the cost could be recouped in reduced maintenance and fuel bills.

PE officials hope to meet with the supervisors to discuss the CNG program, he said.

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