by Conrad Wilson

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The U.S. Department of Transportation says St. Cloud Metro Bus will receive $3.3 million to help the system switch over to buses fueled by compressed natural gas.

The project is one of 27 around the country that will get money from the Transportation Department's Clean Fuels Grant Program.

The St. Cloud grant will help pay for a new fueling station and remodeling the operations center.

At today's fuel prices, the buses fueled by natural gas will save somewhere between $1.75 and $2 per gallon compared to diesel. According to St. Cloud Metro Bus, the agency will save $500,000 per year in fuel costs by replacing 18 of the 39 buses in its fleet. The buses are also cleaner burning.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was on site to make the announcement.

"This community gets it," LaHood said. "This transit program gets it when it comes to the next generation of transportation. It's not the old way of doing things."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar was in St. Cloud for the announcement and said increased domestic energy production is paying off.

"It's part of a greater trend in our country," Klobuchar said. "In the last few years, we've seen our dependency on foreign oil go from 60 percent to 45 percent. And we have a lot farther to go, but that is an amazing change."

Buses fueled by compressed natural gas should be on St. Cloud streets by 2014.