THOMASVILLE — Tim Echols’ stop in Thomasville last Friday was for more than to fill up his pickup.
The Georgia Public Service Commission member also was in town to extol the benefits of compressed natural gas, which fuels the truck he’s driving.
“Natural gas is an important part of the fuel mix,” said Echols, who has been a Public Service Commissioner for 10 years.
The City of Thomasville uses CNG to fuel many of its larger vehicles, including its trash trucks, Echols pointed out.
“It’s worked out real well,” Thomasville City Manager Alan Carson said. “It’s more efficient for the bigger trucks.”
Echols has been a proponent for solar power and other alternative energy during his time on the PSC — he has a Clean Energy Roadshow that he has taken across the state every summer for the last eight years — and is pushing CNG use with the Ford F-150 he’s driving.
“We are getting a lot of electric vehicles out there, but we need both CNG and electric,” he said. “Electric trucks aren’t here yet. And there are some unique characteristics trucks need to have, whether you’re towing something or whether you’re out on a job site or you have to travel a long way, you want to have that flexibility.”
Echols said the amount of carbon dioxide in the air has been reduced because of the use of natural gas and added natural gas is a part of a cleaner energy future.
“Natural gas has replaced coal in many of our plants, allowing us to cut our emissions in half,” he said. "Natural gas and propane are both way cleaner than gasoline and diesel. It’s a very clean fuel.”
Atlanta’s MARTA has 1,200 buses running on natural gas, Echols noted, and Macon also has city buses running on natural gas. Blue Bird is making 25% of the engines for its vehicles to run on either natural gas or propane. UPS’ vehicles also are using liquified natural gas or compress natural gas, Echols said.
“So there are a lot of people taking advantage of this,” he said.
Echols said he is going to present a sustainability award to Old Town Trolleys in Savannah because all of their vehicles are running on propane. The other tourist trolleys in Savannah are using diesel, he said.
“And that exhaust is just right there at the ground level in the Historic District,” he said. “You can hear the difference. Engines are quieter.”
Echols pointed to problems in other states’ power grids because they don’t have a good use of natural gas, even in Texas. West Coast states have made not relying on fossil fuels “a moral issue,” he said, and he believes it is hurting those states.
“They have said coal is immoral and its half-brother natural gas is immoral,” he said. “They’ve passed laws saying you can’t connect to natural gas. They have shamed other states that are doing it so much so that’s when it’s hot in California on an August afternoon and their solar goes to sleep and they really need electricity they can’t get it now. They don’t have any thermal plants where they can get it.”
Echols, who is running for re-election in 2022, said Georgia will keep a diverse fuel mix that includes natural gas, nuclear and solar. Solar power, he said, is cheaper than using coal for now and Georgia is turning to solar without providing subsidies.
“Nothing about power plants is immoral,” he said. “We’ll keep them diverse so we can provide reliable power, reliable gas service to the companies we are recruiting here. There is a reason Toyota and Nissan left California. The business climate is so difficult out there.”