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Inyo supports clean air projects

February 9, 2012

Inyo County is considering a proposal to save money on fuel costs by converting some county vehicles to run on compressed natural gas. If the conversion is financially beneficial, the county will apply for a grant to convert the vehicles and build natural gas stations. Photo courtesy Metrocreativegraphics.com

County leaders endorsed three proposals for Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District grants Tuesday.
The Inyo County Planning and Public Works departments are each planning to submit applications for the Clean Air Projects Program grants, while a grant application of the Inyo-Mono Advocates for Community Action now has the support of the county behind it.
According to Darren Malloy of IMACA, the non-profit agency is currently offering assistance to residents who wish to replace old, inefficient wood-burning stoves with modern heaters that result in less pollutants.
Malloy said IMACA currently has 144 applicants waiting to have their old stoves replaced. He said IMACA is applying for $2 million, which should allow the organization to replace 1,100 wood-burning stoves in Inyo and Mono counties.
IMACA is giving its applicants the option of replacing their inefficient heaters with Environmental Protection Agency-approved wood burning stoves, propane heaters or pellet stoves.
Malloy said that standard wood-burning stoves release between 30 and 50 grams of pollutants per hour, while their EPA-approved counter-parts release about three grams of pollutants per hour.
IMACA is making the program available to everyone in Inyo and Mono, but those who do not meet income guidelines will be required to help cover the cost of the replacement.
“All funds are going to be used to create local jobs and support local businesses and vendors,” Malloy said.
The board voted 3-0 (with Supervisors Richard Cervantes and Linda Arcularius abstaining, as they are part of the IMACA Governing Board) to send the agency a letter of support to include in its grant application.
Interim Public Works Director Doug Wilson was also given the go-ahead to apply for Clean Air Projects funds to pay for upgrades to county snowblowers and street sweepers.
Wilson’s application will also include a request for funds for heater upgrades for county buildings.
“There has been a lot of continuing evolution on what is a viable application for this program,” Wilson said. “I’ve been told that this is probably not a real strong application, and that we may want to upgrade the buildings with double-paned windows rather than change the heaters, but we’ve done so much work on this already, that we can go ahead.”
Wilson said that Great Basin may not approve one or two aspects of the application, however, it has reserved the right to “cherry pick” the application, and may approve one or two of the requests.
The Board of Supervisors tentatively approved a request from Planning Director Josh Hart to apply for funds to build a series of compressed natural gas fueling stations in Inyo and Mono, and retrofit at least part of the county’s fleet of vehicles to run off the cleaner-burning, cheaper fuel.
The board approved the request by a four-fifths vote, with the dissent coming from Supervisor Cervantes, who said the county is not ready to invest in natural gas-powered vehicles.
Cervantes said he has some knowledge about the natural gas market due to investment research. He explained that in the next 15 years, a natural gas pipeline will likely be running through the Owens Valley, but the current cost to transport the fuel here may outweigh the benefit of using the cheaper fuel.
Planner Dan Stewart, who is currently working on a cost-benefit analysis for the program, said vehicles using compressed natural gas do lose a few miles per gallon when compared to diesel and gasoline, but said there may be savings in the overall lower cost of natural gas.
Stewart also pointed out that natural gas is obtained domestically, whereas most fossil fuels are purchased from other countries.
If the county does move forward with the compressed natural gas idea, Stewart said there may be interest from private gas station owners to offer the fuel. He also said private citizens and public agencies may be interested in converting their vehicles to the cleaner, cheaper fuel to cut costs. He said that could be especially beneficial to the school districts, which have had their transportation budgets cut, and to commercial waste haulers, who are paying for fuel for their garbage trucks.
The board approved the application, but reserves the right to withdraw it if the cost-benefit analysis Stewart is working on shows that the county would not be saving money.
Applications for the Clean Air Projects Program are due Feb. 14.

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