Having entered projects in various science competitions when I was in high school, I can tell you from experience that the ability to explain your project effectively is just as important as having data. It really depends on the judges that you get, but for the most part, you must have some sort of data and data analysis in addition to your great project ideas in order to advance to higher levels of the competitions. I would say that you should definitely keep trying to get that piece of equipment, and perhaps you could try emailing local university professors if they have that piece of equipment and if you could use it for your project. Another option I would suggest is tweaking your project idea so that perhaps you can conduct your project with some more easily obtainable equipment. This would be analogous to splitting your larger goal into a set of smaller, more achievable goals. The reason behind this is that if judges see that you actively tried to conduct your experiment with what you had (even at least a small part of it), you will be able to get some sort of data and still be able to tell the judges at the end of the presentation that what you really hope to do in the future is to expand the project by using the original equipment that you were not able to obtain. Again, like you said, with regional science fairs it will be a hit-or-miss depending on the variability of the judges and the judging criteria, so your best bet would be to get as much of an edge as possible - which includes getting as much data as you possibly can. Hope this helps!
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -Isaac Asimov