The Dane County Highway Department has been transforming its fleet of vehicles. They are systematically replacing inefficient diesel snowplows with plows that operate on renewable natural gas (RNG) from Dane County’s landfill. Today half of the county’s snowplows are RNG rather than diesel. The result is a lower cost per mile and fewer emissions.
The initiative earned the Dane County Highway Department a 2020 Climate Champion status.
“We are proud of our transition to RNG vehicles. The RNG fleet costs less to operate and produces fewer emissions,” said Jerry Mandli, Dane County Highway Commissioner.
The Dane County Highway Department is responsible for maintaining county roads (sometimes referred to as the county trunk system). The department also maintains state roads and the interstate for the Wisconsin State Department of Transportation. Maintenance includes plowing the roads after a snowfall.
The County began transitioning to RNG snowplows several years ago.
“Today, most of the vehicles we purchase are renewable natural gas,” said Dan Behrend, Highway Operations Manager. Behrend noted that diesel vehicles were getting more expensive and less fuel-efficient due to environmental regulations, which increased the appeal of the RNG options. A typical snowplow is relatively fuel inefficient; after all, a snowplow is a big vehicle, typically pushing snow. These vehicles tend to achieve 4-6 mpg, depending on plowing conditions. (A typical light-duty vehicle on the road today averages 22 mpg by comparison.)
Using RNG also saves the county money compared to buying diesel fuel. The Highway Department pays less than $1.50 per gallon for RNG and the fuel economy of an RNG snowplow is comparable to a diesel plow. The reduced fuel costs enables the department to stretch their budget, plowing more roads at less cost.
There is also a lower environmental cost. Switching from diesel to RNG reduces emissions by about two-thirds.
The Highway Department is also replacing light-duty vehicles with RNG options. Today about half of the snowplow fleet runs on RNG. They plan to purchase several additional RNG vehicles in 2021.
“RNG has been a great option for our fleet and especially for snowplows and some of the other heavy-duty vehicles. It is not only green from an environmental standpoint with significantly lower emissions, but the cost of the RNG has been less and much more stable as we have converted our feet, producing cost savings. Initial and ongoing maintenance costs have also been less, saving us even more green. We encourage other local governments to explore the advantages of an RNG fleet,” said Mandli.
Learn more about the County’s landfill RNG project that creates the RNG that fuels the county’s snowplows.
You can earn recognition for your organization's efforts by applying for our Climate Champion awards.