ORRVILLE: Smith Dairy stopped home delivery of milk in 1998, something the longtime company initiated in 1909.

For the 21st century, the family-owned Orrville dairy company is now delivering a much different product to the public: compressed natural gas, or CNG, dispensed solely at a nearly $1.5 million fueling station just off Main Street near its corporate headquarters.

Smith Dairy officially unveiled its CNG fueling island Wednesday afternoon. The company also showed off its six CNG-powered delivery trucks and invited other businesses with CNG vehicles to the event.

The company wanted to continue its longtime commitment to being environmentally friendly while also taking advantage of an abundant and inexpensive fuel supply, speakers said.

“It’s clean. It’s the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon there is,” said Steven Schmid, president of Dairy Enterprises Inc., Smith Dairy’s corporate parent. “We want to help more people have a better carbon footprint.”

The station currently sells CNG at the equivalent gasoline price of $1.95 per gallon. The station is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and takes credit cards. The natural gas comes in via a normal gas pipeline buried under the street and is compressed on site using two made-in-Ohio Ariel Corp. gas compressors.

The company made a deliberate decision to make the fueling station available to the general public, Schmid said.

Helping the environment was the top priority behind the station, he said. “Once it’s out of the ground, it’s better for the environment.”

The second priority was making sure the fueling station and eventual conversion of Smith Dairy’s vehicle fleet — encompassing hundreds of trucks and cars — made economic sense, he said.

Smith Dairy paid for the facility and trucks from its own corporate funds, executives said.

Wednesday’s event included free scoops of Smith Dairy’s Ruggles ice cream for onlookers, employees and dignitaries who included Todd Snitchler, the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio; Orrville Mayor Dave Handwerk, and Craig Butler from Gov. John Kasich’s office.

Chesapeake Energy Corp., which is at the early stages of drilling Ohio’s Utica shale for oil and gas, displayed its Chesapeake CNG Chopper, billed as the world’s first natural gas-powered chopper. The blue motorcycle was hand-built in 2009 by custom builders Orange County Choppers and featured on the reality show American Chopper. (No one was allowed to ride the bike, but its V-twin engine was started up.)

Guests said that Smith Dairy is among those businesses at the early stages of taking advantage of a long-term glut of natural gas unlocked from the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling of deep, vast underground veins of oil shale.

A Smith Dairy “sustainability team” started to explore alternate fuel vehicles a couple of years ago and soon decided that compressed natural gas made the best sense.

“And now you see the outcome of those efforts,” said Chuck Diehl, Smith Dairy’s fleet maintenance manager.

Smith Dairy expects to phase out all of its diesel vehicles by 2030, he said. The replacement vehicles may be CNG powered or use some other technology by then, he said.

The current CNG-powered trucks cost $45,000 more apiece than their diesel equivalents and went into service in July, Diehl said. But the lower price of natural gas compared to diesel favors the CNG engines paying for the difference in two to three years, while Smith Dairy typically keeps its trucks 10 to 12 years, he said.

Each of the six Smith Dairy trucks carries two, 42-gallon CNG tanks that allow for a 300-mile driving range — one to two days’ use — before needing to be refueled.

Because compressed natural gas now is half the price of an equivalent amount of diesel fuel, that spurs economic decisions, said Tim Boyle, manager, business development with ANGI Energy Systems. ANGI helped Smith Dairy with the fueling station project.

“You are going to see a lot of these trucks in Northeast Ohio,” Diehl said.

The CNG-powered trucks can be spotted by reading the numbers displayed on the tractor cabins, he said.

“Units 333 to 338. You can look for them,” Diehl said.

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com.