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Two projects for fueling natural gas vehicles get grants

A pair of projects to build compressed natural gas fueling stations to support the conversion of truck fleets to cleaner-burning natural gas won the backing of the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board for nearly $1.6 million in funding.

The board recommended Monday that $1 million in funding be provided to We Care Transportation for its $15 million project to build a CNG filling station and convert its fleet of vehicles, used to transport sick, elderly and disabled residents, to run on natural gas.

It also recommended that Nexus Natural Gas, a consortium of seven companies in the Town of Tonawanda, receive $570,000 to help fund the construction of a CNG fueling station that will allow the member companies to convert the 24 trucks in their fleets to natural gas.

In both cases, the board said the funding, which must be approved by the New York Power Authority board of trustees, would go toward the construction of the fueling station and associated expenses, not the vehicles that will be converted to run on natural gas.

We Care officials, who had asked the power allocation board for nearly $3 million in funding, told the board that they want to convert their trucks to run on natural gas to reduce the fuel costs that had been threatening to cause the company to drop its para-transit services.

But with trucks running on natural gas, We Care executives said they hope to try to win new business to provide transportation services in parts of Western New York where they currently are not available. If the company can lower its operating costs and fuel expenses, the company believes it will save enough money to allow it to make investments to expand its fleet of vehicles and expand service.

If that happens, the company said it could increase its workforce by as much as 50 percent, hiring 100 new employees to go with the 200 workers it currently employs. We Care said its jobs pay an average of $30,000 a year.

Nexus Natural Gas plans to build a CNG station before the end of this year for the exclusive use of the seven companies involved in the partnership. The $2.85 million project is expected to reduce the operating costs of the seven companies, helping them to retain the jobs of the 106 people they currently employ.

The consortium includes Guard Construction and Contracting, Swift River Associates, Speed Global Services, Pariso Trucking, Niagara Metals, O and K Truck Repair and Triad Recycling and Energy, said Christina Orsi, the regional director for Empire State Development in Buffalo.

The funding from the power allocation board would cover 20 percent of the total project costs.

The board is operating under a state mandate that 15 percent of its money go toward energy-related projects. Before Monday’s vote, about 4 percent of the board’s allocations had gone to energy-related projects. By approving the two CNG projects, the allocations for energy-related projects jumped to 8 percent.

The fund from the sale of unallocated hydropower has raised $36.3 million for economic development projects within 30 miles of the Niagara Power Project since the program began in 2010, although the board did not begin allocating money until May 2012. The Power Authority and the allocation board have approved or recommended nearly $17 million in funding through its first six rounds of allocations.

The fund gets its money from the sale of unallocated hydropower from the Niagara Power Project, which currently totals 90-megawatts of electricity.