Members of the engineering services committee voted to require garbage haulers to use compressed gas in their trucks and authorized Solid Waste Director Mark Johnson to seek proposals to design, build, operate and maintain a compressed natural gas fueling station.
The full commission will vote on the plan at the next regular meeting.
The gas benefits the environment, is cleaner, cheaper and it works, Johnson told the committee.
In 2009, the state Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources recommended that Augusta be designated a non-attainment area for ozone. If that happened, vehicles would have to be inspected annually to determine whether they were emitting too many exhaust fumes. There also would be a ban on outdoor burning. The designation would hamper economic development because industries would be subject to more stringent permits.
Augusta is barely in compliance with the ground-level ozone standard of 75 parts per billion, Johnson said. Compressed natural gas reduces greenhouse gas compared to both diesel fuel and gasoline.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver said converting to compressed natural gas is something the city has to do for attainment and economic development.
"It's crucial we do it," he said. "From an air-quality standpoint, it's something we have to do."
Commissioner Jerry Brigham questioned why the board was resistant.
"We wouldn't be (resisting) if we were in non-attainment," he said.
The city would be tied into an Atlanta Gas pipeline. Initially, no methane gas from the Deans Bridge Road landfill would be used, Johnson said.
The fueling station would be designed to allow for satellite locations using tube trailers. Haulers using the gas would pay back the capital cost of the program, Johnson said. Gas sales to garbage haulers would pay for the station.
Commissioner Corey Johnson said he thought it was a good program but asked what it would mean to current haulers who might not be able to afford new trucks. Mark Johnson said the federal energy bill that goes into effect Jan. 1 allows for up to 80 percent of incremental cost of dedicated natural gas vehicles based on Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. For example, if a vehicle weighed 26,000 pounds and cost $40,000, 80 percent of that would amount to a $32,000 tax credit.
Commissioners also voted to allow Mark Johnson to negotiate with current haulers to extend their contracts through next year so there will be time to design bid packages with options.
The impact on garbage rates next year will not be known until negotiating is done, but any increase would be tied to the Consumer Price Index, he said.