Progressive Waste Solutions Ltd. is making a large commitment to compressed natural gas (CNG) waste and recycling vehicles, but at a pace that will make good economic sense for the company, says Joseph Quarin, vice chairman and CEO, in an exclusive interview.
The Vaughan, Ontario-based Progressive Waste anticipates that 50 to 55 percent of the vehicles it purchases in 2014 in the United States and Canada will be CNG fueled.
Quarin says in an interview the CNG portion of its fleet in the United States currently is about 0.5 percent, or about 40 units. But he expects it to be 120 units by the end of the year, or 4 percent of its U.S. fleet.
Progressive expects to have nearly 150 natural gas vehicles in Canada by the end of this year, with the addition of trucks in markets such as Montreal, the company said in a news release. That would comprise about 13 percent of the company’s Canadian fleet. Currently Progressive Waste has more than 110 natural gas vehicles in Canada, including fleets in Surrey, British Columbia, and Simcoe County, Ontario, representing about 10 percent of the company’s Canadian fleet.
Typically the company buys 350 to 400 vehicles a year, so Quarin says Progressive could have 400 to 500 CNG trucks by the end of 2014, with more than 300 in the United States.
About 60 percent of Progressive’s business is in the United States, with the remainder in Canada.
CNG fueling stations are key to Progressive. It has two in place now in the United States and will have seven stations by the end of the year. The company is building fueling stations in Canadian markets such Montreal as it converts its fleet.
“That will allow us a lot more flexibility in investing in CNG,” Quarin says. “The economics around CNG focuses on getting bases. It warrants being strategic in a rollout. We will take a very measured approach in our investment, that it’s part of the normal replacement cycle, and we’re not just out buying trucks.”
Quarin says another factor in the CNG market in the emergence of third parties building fueling stations, which provide opportunities in smaller markets. “If we have a 10-fleet operation it doesn’t make sense to do a station and the trucks,” Quarin says. “A third party makes it easier to consider smaller markets earlier in the process.”
Quarin says there is a leveling off point for CNG fleet investment. “If you can’t get 20 plus vehicles in a fleet it’s hard to justify a fuel station unless the costs of fueling stations come down, and that’s not on the horizon at this point. Also, what’s going to happen with cost of natural gas vs. diesel will impact some of the marginal allocations.”
Quarin says Progressive hasn’t been a leader in technology; rather, it does a lot of due diligence on a product to make sure it works. “We look to invest where we get the best return. We won’t do something that won’t generate a return for us. It’s got to make good business sense as well as environmental sense. We’re all for it when it does.”
The CNG commitment doesn’t represent a philosophical change for Progressive, but rather, the right time for an opportunity. “We’ve always been active in our pursuit of environmentally friendlier options in terms of handling the waste,” Quarin says. “Because we operate in Northeast (United States) and Canada there’s higher tipping fees, which also encourages more diversion.”
Progressive has nearly 50 recycling facilities, many in Canada where there are more government regulations such as landfill bans forcing alternative waste management methods. The company also is working on a $40 million landfill gas-to-energy project in Montreal that is set to open in the second quarter of next year.