NORMAN — Cleveland County commissioners welcomed a visit from Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday by parking two new, compressed natural gas pickups front and center on the courthouse lawn.
The trucks are the county's first CNG-powered vehicles, purchased through a factory contract secured by Fallin as part of the governor's initiative to convert the state fleet to compressed natural gas.
With the purchase, Cleveland County becomes the state's first county to buy CNG vehicles, although Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said his county is not far behind. He expects to get two new CNG trucks delivered by November.
Maughan and Cleveland County commissioners Rod Cleveland and Darry Stacy have joined together to launch a county CNG initiative similar to Fallin's.
“Her challenge is to state agencies to replace their fleet with CNG vehicles. I would like to challenge our 77 counties to do the same,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland, Stacy and County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan say they are committed to replacing older county vehicles “as needed” with CNG vehicles, beginning with the two pickups delivered just this week.
“What a great testimony,” Fallin said, after both Cleveland and Stacy extolled the benefits of CNG purchases.
The new trucks cost more up front but will save thousands of dollars down the road, said Cleveland, with each vehicle expected to save the county $20,000 in fuel costs over its lifetime.
CNG-powered trucks run better, last longer and are better for the environment, as well as reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil, Stacy said.
“We believe this movement toward converting to CNG vehicles is a game-changer for the nation,” Stacy said. “We're thankful for the governor's initiative that inspired us and look forward to saving even more money in the years to come.”
One problem counties face in switching to CNG cars and trucks is a lack of infrastructure throughout the state, Cleveland said.
“But demand builds supply,” Fallin said, noting that Oklahoma is now the leader in having more CNG fueling stations per capita than any other state. The goal is to have a CNG fueling station every 100 miles, she said.
Fallin began her initiative when she joined with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in a visit to the nation's major car manufacturers to convince them to offer new factory vehicles at more affordable prices. Twenty-three other states have now joined in the campaign.
Ford, Chrysler, General Motors and Honda dealers have cut the cost of CNG vehicles in their bids to state governments, Fallin said.
Cleveland said the county's new trucks cost between $35,000 and $36,000 apiece, which is about $5,800 less than what CNG pickups cost before the governor's initiative.