The Push For Propane
Strategic uses to reduce emissions, impress visitors, and keep budgets in check
By Jeremy Wishart
Photos: Courtesy of PERC
Parks and recreation facilities are facing new challenges as public budgets shrink and changing climates add unpredictable elements to operations, maintenance, and planning activities. On top of these, private donors and boards are increasingly requesting that funds be directed toward more energy-efficient—and sometimes costly—improvements.
However, there is an alternative fuel that can help parks of all sizes manage these challenges and continue to meet, or even exceed, the expectations of local residents, visitors, and budgets—propane. The fuel is widely available across the United States and Canada, can be used in a variety of applications, and is consistently less expensive than gasoline and diesel. In fact, approximately 90 percent of the propane in the U.S. is also produced within the country, which helps insulate costs from the whims of the global oil market and can be a huge help when it comes time to plan budgets.
Here are several ways that propane can support parks inside, outside, and year-round:
1. Add time- and cost-efficiency to lawn and turf maintenance.
It can be challenging for parks departments to meet the demands of managing many greenspaces while staying on budget and on time. However, adding propane-powered mowers can often help alleviate these issues through reduced fuel costs and higher productivity.
Fuel costs can be reduced by as much as 30 to 50 percent, compared to costs with gasoline. This price disparity can widen even further during periods when gasoline prices rise, such as during this summer when prices reached a four-year high in early August 2018.
In the field, propane mowers offer several advantages to maintenance crews, too. Full propane cylinders can be delivered to a park’s fleet facility or easily filled from a bulk tank at the end of the day so crews can quickly load full tanks onto equipment at the start of the day and head directly to a site. Additional, full cylinders can even be loaded onto trailers to swap out with empty cylinders during the day, eliminating the need to stop at gasoline refueling stations.
An added benefit of propane is the fuel is recognized by the EPA as a non-contaminant of air, soil, and water. In fact, a study commissioned by the Propane Education & Research Council found that propane mowers produce fewer emissions than gasoline-equivalent units, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 19 percent, and sulfur oxide (Sox) emissions by 16 percent. Propane mowers also meet—and often exceed—emissions standards in municipalities or regions affected by “ozone-action days” that otherwise limit use of equipment with internal-combustion engines. Because of this, parks can keep summer employees and daily maintenance from being sidelined during a busy season.
Parks that contract out for services may also be able to reap the benefits of propane mowers. More than 20,000 mowers were already in use by public and private fleets across the United States at the start of the 2018 cutting season, making it increasingly likely there is a contractor nearby who can be contacted to provide services with propane equipment.
2. Keep transit, maintenance, and administrative vehicles out of the garage and on the road.
Like mowers, propane autogas vehicles also reduce emissions compared to those that use gasoline and diesel. In fact, the alternative fuel boasts the lowest total cost-of-ownership per ton of emissions reduced, and can be used in a number of makes and models to fit a park’s needs.
Light-duty propane autogas vehicles, such as administrative sedans and small trucks, produce 36 percent fewer NOx emissions than diesel, and six percent fewer NOx emissions than gasoline, as well as 12 percent fewer GHGs than gasoline. Medium-duty vehicles produce 75 percent fewer NOx emissions and 12 percent fewer GHGs than diesel.
In addition to propane lowering emissions, parks can save approximately 30 to 50 percent on fuel costs per gallon compared to diesel and gasoline. Using propane autogas also offers parks a number of advantages on vehicle maintenance. For example, propane autogas vehicles don’t require complex emissions systems like new diesel engines. There’s no need for costly diesel emissions fluid or particulate filters. Propane autogas performs well in colder climates as well, without the need for fuel conditioners to keep fuel lines from freezing and clogging.
Just by eliminating these fluids and filters, parks will likely see a sharp decrease in the unexpected repairs and vehicle downtime common in even the most well-maintained diesel vehicles. An added benefit to parks departments is that fleets that add propane autogas will likely not need any updates to maintenance or garaging facilities to accommodate the fuel, as is the case with other alternative fuels.
With all combined cost savings, some propane autogas fleets have reported recouping their initial investment in as little as two to three years—a fraction of the lifespan a parks vehicle can have.
3. Spruce up facilities with propane amenities and generators.
Park facilities play a central role in communities, providing opportunities for entertainment, fitness, and education, and even functioning as shelters during times of inclement weather. For this reason, and because parks and recreation crews are often one of the first responders during storm clean-up, having reliable backup power is vital to keeping residents and employees safe, and even in helping a community get back on its feet after a storm or natural disaster.
With a commercial, standby propane generator, parks directors can rest assured that power will continue to vital parts of park operations to keep visitors and employees safe. The affordable, automated generators ramp up quickly to provide power up to 400 kilowatts after a disruption to the electric grid, with little to no involvement from parks employees to activate, maintain, or shut off power from the generators. They can be installed on site at shelters, recreation centers, and parks department offices. Propane also has an indefinite shelf life, whereas diesel degrades over time and may not be ready to work when needed.
For times when the weather is pleasant, incorporating propane into outdoor fireplaces, firepits, and patio heaters can give residents more reasons to enjoy parks. Propane can provide the ambience of a warm fire for roasting marshmallows, hot dogs, or other camp food without the embers that can start wildfires. Patio heaters can provide portable comfort to visitors at a community ice rink, or participants after a late-fall 5K race.
Additionally, propane can be used indoors for energy-efficient space and water heating, for commercial clothes dryers, and in commercial kitchen appliances for municipal golf course clubhouses, recreation centers, concession stands, and other facilities.
Parks departments have no shortage of concerns when it comes to meeting budgets, facing new challenges, and continuing to provide great services to residents. Fortunately, propane provides several ways for parks to respond to changes while providing advantages to budgets. To learn more about how propane can be used for mowing, vehicle fleets, and facilities, visit propane.com.
Jeremy Wishart is the director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four Resources To Determine Whether Propane Is Right For Your Department
It can seem daunting to try to add a new fuel to a fleet, but these tools from the Propane Education & Research Council are here to give parks directors and fleet managers a hand-up on the process.
1. The Propane Mower Cost Calculator: See how much your department can save based on your existing gasoline or diesel mowers. The calculator is available as an app through Apple and Google, as well as a printable worksheet that can be shared during budget meetings (https://www.propane.com/commercial-landscape/calculator/).
2. The Propane Autogas Cost Calculator: Input your existing fuel use for diesel or gasoline vehicles to see what your department can save by using propane autogas instead. The calculator is available as an app through Apple and Google, as well as a printable worksheet that can be shared during budget meetings (https://www.propane.com/on-road-fleets/calculator/).
3. The Propane Mower Incentive Program: Applicants can receive up to $1,000 per qualifying new propane mower purchase or $500 per qualifying mower conversion (https://www.propane.com/commercial-landscape/programs-and-incentives/propane-mower-incentive-program/).
4. The Propane Product Directory: Use this search tool to see how propane appliances can be incorporated into your facilities, as well as to find related training materials and resources (https://www.buildwithpropane.com/Propane-Systems/Product-Directory/).