A propane system is being installed in some of Bennington County Sheriff’s Department vehicles. (Holly Pelczynski/Bennington
A propane system is being installed in some of Bennington County Sheriff’s Department vehicles. (Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner/photos.benningtonbanner.com)

BENNINGTON -- The Bennington County Sheriff plans to use propane kits to save thousands of dollars in annual fuel costs for vehicles.

Sheriff Chad D. Schmidt said two cruisers and a transport van are slated to have propane kits initially. One cruiser has it already, he said, with the van and other cruiser getting their own next week.

A propane fueling station will be built at the former Carbone auto dealership at 811 Route 7. The Sheriff's Department plans to buy the property, rehabilitate it, and move there from its current location on Lincoln Street.

Schmidt said there are already three 1,000-gallon propane tanks on the property.

He expects the propane kits will save the department significant amounts of money on fuel.

"If I converted my entire fleet, that figure would be around $30,000 per year, but the break-even point with each car is around 100 and 115 gallons of gasoline usage. If I can meet that with propane, then the conversion kit pays for itself," he said.

Of the fleet's 31 vehicles, 12 will be converted, he said.

The kits and fueling station are being done by Better Fuels LLC, a company in Williamstown, Mass.

Each kit costs about $5,200, Schmidt said, and he expects the fueling station to cost between $9,000 and $10,000.

"Right now I can get propane for right around $2 per gallon, so gasoline is about $3.60, $3.70, and you see a little bit less miles per gallon, but it's not a significant amount," he said.

When the converted vehicle starts, it uses gasoline until the engine heats up then it switches to propane. Schmidt said the driver can switch it back to gasoline if necessary.

"Our goal is not to use gas, but it is a back-up in case you need it," he said.

Peter Shanley, of Better Fuels, said the company has also converted vehicles at Williams College to propane. The kits will last the life of a vehicle and can be transferred. He said propane is a good option for places like the Sheriff's Department and the college, but not economically feasible for all.

Schmidt said the tanks are installed in the trunk area and are much thicker and durable than the gasoline tank.

Carbone Auto Groups currently owns the Route 7 location. Schmidt said he expects the sale to be finalized soon. The department will take over both the main building and the former show room, which may become an impound lot.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.