Gas prices are the notorious strain on many household budgets. Whether you have one vehicle or five, budgeting for gas for the week, for trips, and for multiple drivers can be a hassle. The same is true of municipal governments. Paying for fuel for maintenance trucks, road commission vehicles, police cruisers, and more isn’t cheap, and it’s near impossible for municipal governments to find clean energy alternatives to keep their emissions down and constituents happy.

April 27, however, Eaton County entered what can be called a trial run of alternative, clean fuel. Working with the Michigan Propane Gas Association and Altogas to install propane autogas converters into several county vehicles, Eaton County will test out the possibility transferring all county vehicles to propane. The official start of the 30-day trial program is Wednesday, May 23 with an event at the state capital.

The conversion is fairly simple, according to Scott Underwood of Altogas, The propane converters are installed into vehicles already-existing systems, not replacing the gas tanks or fuel systems. Vehicles can run on propane and switch back to regular gas if need arises. The converters work with vehicle computers as well, so the converters truly are a plug in and go addition.

Although the main concerns for such a conversion are fuel costs and carbon emissions, the benefits of propane autogas go much further. While the propane converters take about three days to install, they’re just as easy to remove, and can be used on subsequent vehicles. Propane is also proven to be far easier on engines. According to Underwood, mechanics have worked on engines from propane-fueled vehicles and said the engines are practically like new, meaning once vehicles age out of use their resale value is much higher than if they’d only run on regular gas.

“It’s kind of a no brainer,” said Eaton County commissioner, Kent Austin. “This one made sense economically and for the environment.”

Commissioner Austin was instrumental in working out the trial program with Michigan Propane Gas Association and Altogas. Once he heard about the potential benefits of such a move, he brought officials from EATRAN, Eaton County Road Commission, and local law enforcement to hear a presentation about propane autogas. EATRAN especially, according to Austin, has a serious need for fuel alternatives, having used just under 112,000 gallons of gas in 2017. EATRAN will test the propane autogas on as many as five vehicles during the trial.

Michigan Propane Gas Association is offering a $4,000 rebate for each vehicle in the trial run. The propane converters are EPA approved, and each has a seven-year warranty and the likelihood of lifetime use, according to Underwood.

The decision is still to be made on whether the county would transfer all of its vehicles over to propane, but Austin is confident about the possibility.