Sold American

tporter@lsjournal.comAugust 7, 2013 

  • 149 Number of vehicles the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District plans to run on compress natural gas after its clean energy conversion.

Tom Kurucz sat stoically as David McGehee publicly praised his efforts in spearheading the district’s conversion to compressed natural gas-powered vehicles for its bus fleet.

Kurucz, the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District’s deputy superintendent of operations, was among the heavy-lifters of the clean energy initiative, considered by McGehee – the district’s superintendent – as the largest school bus conversion in the nation.

The district showcased Aug. 1 two of what will become a fleet of 149 school buses powered by CNG during a ceremony at the Stansberry Leadership Center.

The district partnered with Clean Energy – co-founded by billionaire oil and natural gas energy magnate T. Boone Pickens – and North Carolina-based Thomas Built Buses, among other entities, in the conversion. According to the district, funding sources for the conversion include a variety of local, state and federal resources, corporate and utility partnerships, district savings and redirected alternate funds.

“Four years ago the (R-7) board of education gave us a direction to try to find what we call alternative resources – funding that we don’t have currently in place – so that we could offset budget cuts in the capital area and across the board district-wide,” said Kurucz, who was presented a framed letter during the ceremony written and signed by Pickens thanking Kurucz and the district for being at forefront of the school bus conversion. “Our budget has had a $20 million deduction the last five years now in expenditures, so we began to look at alternative resource options.”

According to the Kansas City Star, the R-7 district is not the first school district in the area to move toward compressed natural gas, or CNG, as a fuel. The Kansas City, Kan., school district purchased 47 natural gas buses in 2011.

Kansas City, Kan., schools received a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, according to the Star, which also reported the R-7 district is receiving about $330,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the natural gas conversion and will receive a 55-cent rebate from the federal government for each gallon equivalent of CNG that displaces diesel fuel.

The district will no longer have to pay a 17-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel, either.

“My counterpart in Kansas City, Kan. had brought 40 compressed natural gas school buses,” Kurucz said. “He was kind of the pioneer of that in our area. They were eligible for a lot of the economic stimulus money. As that money went away, I began to look at what can we do.

“I was sold on the fact that the buses are clean, sold that they run just as well as any other, sold on the fact that we had to do something with an aging bus fleet and also sold on the fact we want to, across this country, be green as possible and reduce reliance on foreign oil. So with those kind of points in my mind…we got with some consultants and came up what how much we could save in a number of different areas.

“Well, over $11 million in fuel and maintenance. Then we discovered we could get a 55-cent a gallon subsidy on every gallon that we sell and 32-and-a-half-cent a gallon sold on the public side. That’s just additional revenue for the district.”

McGehee said a portion of the estimated $11 million in overall savings from reduced fuel and maintenance costs from the 10-year initiative will generate enough capital to fund technology infrastructure improvements throughout the school district. The district plans to spend $5 million this year on the improvements in district schools and buildings.

He credited Kurucz’s relentless efforts in making the process as smooth as possible.

“We were able to accomplish a lot of things we didn’t realize we were going to be able to from the beginning with the technology and the property purchase and so on,” McGehee said. “I sent (Kurucz) down there to sit across from T. Boone and talk his language…and he was able to get the job done.”

A public fueling station will open this fall on district property and will be the first one on the Missouri side of the metropolitan area.

According to the Star, the district will receive a nickel in royalties for every gallon equivalent of CNG sold publicly at the station.

“As we began to build the financial package, we purchased property that allowed us to save over 10 years $360,000 in off-site storage,” Kurucz said. “At the end of the day over $18 million worth of compressed natural gas buses, over $2 million worth of trucks, vans and Econovans for facilities and a $1 million property purchase and $5 million in technology, the (estimates) show us at $3.5 million to the good.

“Four years out, we will use that $3.5 million to put together a performance contract that will have a combined guaranteed energy savings of $5 million. It’s been exciting. We’ve herded a lot of cats.”

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