DeKALB – DeKalb County Sheriff’s Deputy James Eklund accelerated his propane-powered squad car down Barber Greene Road after fueling up, his radio crackling in the background.
The car that Eklund drives used to run on gas, but it and five other vehicles were converted in November to use propane as part of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office fuel pilot program aimed at cutting the sheriff’s office fuel budget.
Eklund, who has been driving one of the six new Chevrolet Tahoes since December, said the vehicle runs the same on propane as it does on gasoline.
“If it saves money for everybody, I’m all about it,” he said. “It’s easy to use. It’s easy for everyone.”
Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Gary Dumdie said in 2013, the sheriff’s department spent $175,000 on fuel. This year, the department expects a converted car to save $2,000 in fuel, he said.
“It could be significantly more depending on what the price of gasoline is,” Dumdie said.
The local sheriff’s office was inspired by the sheriff in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, where fleet vehicles have run on propane for almost 30 years, Dumdie said.
“We are always reviewing ways that we can save money,” Dumdie said. “This is the major project that we have going on now.”
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Capt. Duane Scott said that last year, his office paid $1.39 for a gallon of propane compared with $2.39 a gallon for gasoline, saving them at least $60,000 in fuel costs.
“The cost savings are tremendous,” Scott said. “It’s a big budget impact for us.”
Using propane reduces greenhouse gas emissions, allows vehicles to go longer between oil changes and produces recyclable oil, Scott said.
“The only drawback is the [propane] system gets more expensive every year,” said Terry Cerny, secretary of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin.
DeKalb County sheriff’s deputies who are assigned propane-powered vehicles receive safety training and certification on propane autogas refueling from Hicksgas, the company that supplies the propane and fueling equipment.
Speaking about a recent spike in propane prices, Dumdie said he didn’t think it would affect the department’s potential savings because they have a contract to purchase the propane at a set price.
“The price fluctuation isn’t going to affect us in winter,” he said.
On a recent January morning, Eklund stopped at DeKalb Highway Department at 1826 Barber Greene Road to fuel up before his shift. To avoid a burn, he put on a pair of vinyl-coated gloves.
“It seems to be a good system so far,” he said, adding that on average, his patrol car burns 10 to 15 gallons a shift, depending on how busy his day is.
As the program progresses, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office plans to evaluate fuel savings and maintenance costs and could possibly convert more patrol cars to run on propane, Dumdie said.
“That’s all going to be dependent on our evaluation next year,” he said. “What kind of costs we can save.”