BY MICHAEL WALTON
BEULAH — A cleaner, cheaper fuel is powering some Benzie buses.
The Benzie Transportation Authority outfitted three buses with a dual-fuel gasoline propane system, and officials plan to expand the program to two more vehicles by next month.
"It's a no-brainer for us," Josh Stoltz, a Benzie Transportation Authority board member, said. "It's good for the environment and it saves us money."
Authority mechanics installed the dual-fuel systems for about $6,600 per bus, Benzie Transportation Authority Operations Manager Chad Hollenbeck said.
Buses with the new system run on gasoline for roughly a minute when started. The buses' engines then start burning propane.
"When it makes that switch, you can't tell the difference," Hollenbeck said.
The conversion should lead to longterm savings on fuel costs.
The authority bought gas from the Benzie County Road Commission at a tax-free price of about $2.75 per gallon last month.
Diesel fuel cost the authority $3.22 per gallon.
A gallon of propane costs about $1.69.
Federal tax programs also incentivize the use of propane. The bill passed by Congress on Jan. 1 to avoid the 'fiscal cliff' included the extension of tax credits both for outfitting vehicles with propane systems and for purchasing propane fuel.
The fuel tax credits amount to 50 cents of savings for every gallon of propane bought.
And there are environmental benefits associated with propane.
A report from the Propane Education and Research Council states school buses running on propane emit roughly 11 percent less carbon dioxide per year compared to buses running on gasoline.
Stoltz said the authority produces only a modest level of air pollution as a public transit system in a rural area.
But anything that limits greenhouse gas emissions is a step in the right direction.
"If we look at Lake Michigan and see it's getting a little hazy coming up from Chicago, we can at least do our part," he said.