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FIRST NATURAL GAS SCHOOL BUSES IN NORTH CAROLINA ARE DEDICATED IN CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG

 FIRST NATURAL GAS SCHOOL BUSES IN NORTH CAROLINA
 ARE DEDICATED IN CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG
 CHARLOTTE, N.C., Aug. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- In a move aimed at improving air quality in the area while studying alternative fuels, state energy officials are testing six Charlotte-Mecklenburg school buses in a pilot program that could lead to more use of natural gas as fuel for the school bus fleet.
 About 300 students in six area schools this school year will be riding the buses converted from gasoline-burning engines to natural gas engines.
 The pilot program will enable Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system to develop standard procedures for an expanded natural gas bus fleet as funds become available in the future.
 "There is no question we all need to be more energy conscious," Dottie Irving-Fuller, assistant secretary of the N.C. Department of Economic and Community Development, said at a news conference Monday.
 "The Energy Division has done an outstanding job developing and supporting programs that help us conserve energy, protect the environment and diversify our energy supply," Irving-Fuller said. "This is one more example."
 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is the first school system in North Carolina to use natural gas for transportation fuel in converted gasoline-powered buses. Studies have shown that buses operating on natural gas are significantly cleaner to run than buses with gasoline- burning engines.
 The converted buses will be placed in Alexander Junior High and Clear Creek, First Ward, McKee Road, Pawtuckett and Oakhurst elementary schools.
 "We think the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area is the ideal place for this pilot program because of the deterioration of air quality," Irving-Fuller said. "We all know that something needs to be done to cut back on air pollution."
 The pilot program is sponsored by the Energy Division of the N.C. Department of Economic and Community Development in cooperation with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Piedmont Natural Gas Company (NYSE: PNY).
 Charlotte-Mecklenburg superintendent John Murphy said the school system was very supportive of programs that would help to eliminate air pollution in the community.
 "The research we've seen shows that natural gas powered buses are a safe, clean transportation method," Murphy said. "Our primary concern is always the safe transportation of our students to and from school. We've learned that the tanks that hold the natural gas are much thicker- walled and more impact-resistant than regular gasoline or diesel fuel tanks."
 Paul Jones, Governor's Highway Safety Program director, said there were extensive preparations taken before implementing the pilot program.
 "We had a chance to review the literature and research on the subject," Jones said. "Everything we've seen shows that natural gas is perfectly safe when used for fuel in vehicles. In fact, natural gas is as safe or safer than conventional fuels."
 C.D. Culbreth, Energy Division director, said the pilot program will provide information state and local officials need, including answers about efficiency and the number of refueling stations needed.
 Besides the local school district, other schools in California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington and Texas are using natural gas as fuel for their buses.
 Vehicles running on petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline and diesel emit as much as 70 percent of the pollution that plagues urban areas.
 Natural gas burns much more cleanly than gasoline. In contrast to gasoline engines, engines running on natural gas cut carbon monoxide emissions by more than 90 percent -- and in some cases nearly 100 percent -- and reactive hydrocarbons by up to 93 percent. Carbon monoxide interferes with the oxygen supply in the blood. Reactive hydrocarbons mix with other chemicals to produce ozone, a major pollutant.
 John H. Maxheim, Piedmont Natural Gas Company president, said his company already operates vehicles powered by natural gas and has been excited with the results. Maxheim said performance will show school officials the short- and long-term benefits the pilot program will demonstrate next year.
 "They'll realize the fuel efficiency," Maxheim said. "And they'll be pleased with the contribution Charlotte-Mecklenburg will be making to clean the environment and reduce maintenance costs."
 Maxheim said there are more than 30,000 natural gas vehicles in the United States. The number worldwide is more than 700,000.
 North Carolina public schools operate approximately 13,000 buses throughout the state. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools operate nearly 700 buses.
 "We're excited about exploring the environmental, cost-saving and added safety benefits of natural gas-powered school buses," Murphy said.
 -0- 8/10/92
 /CONTACT: Kit Cramer of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, 704-379-7350, Steve Conner of Piedmont Natural Gas, 704-364-3486, ext. 205, or Juan Santos of the North Carolina Department of Economic and Community Development, 919-733-1922/
 (PNY) CO: Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System; North Carolina Department of
 Economic and Community Development; Piedmont Natural Gas Company ST: North Carolina IN: SU: PDT


BR-EA -- CH005 -- 8619 08/10/92 15:33 EDT
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Date:Aug 10, 1992
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