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Shipley Energy finds savings in propane-powered vans

America’s barbecues run on it, so why not cars, trucks and vans?

In fact, powering vehicles with propane is nothing new, but it’s gaining traction, thanks to growing emphasis on cost savings and environmental concerns.

For Shipley Energy, the decision to convert seven of its service vans to propane propulsion certainly took ecology and economy into consideration, but there was also a “why not?” factor.

During a recent interview in which they demonstrated the vehicles, officials with the diverse and growing York-based provider of natural gas, heating oil, electricity and propane acknowledged that it also sets a good example to power its fleet with one of the fuels on which Shipley’s business is built.

Propane price history

While the cost of gasoline has recently fallen below propane in many parts of the country, there is a longer story to be found in quarterly Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Reports published by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.

The most recent report, released at the end of July, showed that the national average retail price for propane was $2.90 per gallon, compared with $2.82 for gasoline and $2.93 for diesel.

Keep flipping through the reports, and a trend emerges.

Between July 2011 and July this year, propane stayed comparatively close to the $3 mark for much of the time, AFDC’s reports show, peaking at $3.31 in April 2014 and bottoming out at $2.56 in October 2012.

The swings for gasoline and diesel were sharper.

Both were sold at prices well above propane for much of the period, only dropping below propane during the past year.

Gasoline’s quarterly extremes over the period were $3.89 in April 2012 and $2.30 in January of this year, according to the reports. Diesel, on the other hand, hit $4.13 in October 2012 and $2.88 in April of this year.

“We have seen an increase in interest in alternative-fuel vehicles. We have compressed natural gas tractors on the road, an electric charging station at our office, and these propane-fueled vans,” said Shipley Group President Matthew Sommer.

“The market is evolving and we want to be in a position to help our customers with whatever fuel they choose to use,” Sommer added. “A great way to learn is to do it ourselves and gain that firsthand knowledge. That is a big part of why it made sense to do these conversions now.”

What is propane?

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Also known as liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, propane is a colorless and naturally odorless byproduct of natural gas processing and the crude oil refining process. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC), most of the non-toxic, clean-burning propane used in North America is produced domestically, meaning greater use of propane “increases U.S. energy security,” the agency says.

According to Shipley spokesman Matthew Hombach, powering the company’s service vans with propane produces less greenhouse gas emissions than using traditional gasoling engines: 12 percent less carbon dioxide, 70 percent fewer smog-producing hydrocarbons, 50 percent less carbon monoxide and 20 percent less nitrogen oxide.

Looking for ROI

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Being more green also saves companies green.

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