WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Next month, Raley's Supermarkets here will begin using eight new tractors and two new yard trucks operating on liquefied natural gas, an alternative fuel.
Raley's decision to use liquefied natural gas stems in part from its anticipation of changing environmental regulations for fuel emissions and also its corporate commitment to public health and community safety, the company said.
Mileage for vehicles fueled by liquefied natural gas is about half that of diesel; however, the alternative fuel is cleaner than diesel and, as a result, better for the environment.
The project, including costs of new tractors and trucks as well as a fueling station, is being subsidized by the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, the local agency responsible for implementing air quality regulations here.
Stan Sasaki, transportation manager at Raley's, said the district is helping to fund the project in hopes of gaining greater acceptance of the alternative fuel. Currently no other supermarkets in the Sacramento area use vehicles powered by liquefied natural gas.
He told SN the chain would like to expand beyond the eight tractors but can only do so as use of liquefied natural gas becomes more prevalent.
"Lower-emission technology can become a commercial reality," said Tim Taylor, chief of the mobile source division for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. "If production volumes increase, incremental costs decrease. And as demand rises, the fueling infrastructure can respond and provide the fuel at lower cost."
The district plans to spend up to $600,000 to pay for the new vehicles' incremental costs over the cost of similar diesel vehicles at Raley's. Liquefied natural gas vehicles cost approximately $35,000 each.
The district has also allocated $220,000 for a fueling station, which is estimated to cost $350,000 to $400,000; Raley's will fund the remaining portion of the station, to be built this summer. By comparison, a 10,000-gallon diesel tank underground can cost between $80,000 and $100,000.
In return for the district's financial assistance, Raley's has agreed to continue using the natural gas vehicles in Sacramento for seven years, and has agreed that the fueling station will be accessible to the public, according to Taylor.
Raley's new tractors that use liquefied natural gas will replace older tractors in the 50-unit fleet. The two new yard trucks using the new fuel will be replacing the company's two older units.
The new tractors will be used for hauling produce, general merchandise, meat, deli and liquor, delivering mainly to Raley's 60-plus stores in the Central Valley region of California, according to Sasaki.
Long-distance deliveries over California's Sierra Mountains to stores in Nevada are not feasible because liquefied natural gas gets 3 miles to the gallon, and the only fueling station is located at the distribution center here.