Planned network of natural gas refueling stations is a model for communities.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday a planned network of natural gas refueling stations could help overcome the "chicken-or-the-egg" dilemma for alternative-fueled vehicles.

Nopetro on Tuesday opened a natural gas vehicle refueling station in Tallahassee that's open to the public. The company, which has offices in Miami and Tallahassee, says it plans a network of 16 refueling stations in Florida and another three in Georgia.

"It really reflects an ideal partnership to expand natural gas into mobile fuels," Putnam said.

On Monday night, Tesla Motors announced it was establishing a network of solar electric charging stations in California with plans to expand them across most of the nation by 2014, according to Bloomberg news.

There is no network of refueling stations now in Florida for alternative-fueled vehicles, though some recharging stations for electric vehicles are scattered in cities. A spokesman for Putnam said there are no other natural gas refueling stations now open to the public.

The Nopetro grand opening event on Tuesday resulted from a contract with Leon County Schools. The school district in 2007 made a commitment to buying new school buses that use natural gas because it is cheaper, cleaner and the energy source is available in the United States, Leon Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons said.

The district in 2010 contracted with Nopetro to refuel school buses at its bus refueling station on the east side of Tallahassee, Pons said.

As part of that contract, Pons said, the company built the station on the city's west side, which is available to motorists who register their vehicles with the company. A station attendant pumps the natural gas into the vehicles, a Nopetro spokesman said.

The company plans to build the other 16 refueling stations in Florida within the next three years, said Jorge A. Herrera, Nopetro's chief financial officer.

Putnam said fuel diversity in Florida is important to him, and now only one-tenth of 1 percent of motor fuels comes from natural gas. He said converting vehicles to natural gas should start with government and corporate fleet vehicles that are restricted to a geographic operating area.

The Nopetro station is a model for other communities to follow by combining a guaranteed market for fleet vehicles with the opening of a public station that could be used to refuel vehicles as they become available. The agriculture commissioner said through a spokesman that no legislation is needed to encourage other pumping stations to be built.

"That solves the chicken-and-egg problem of: Do you build the stations first, or do you invest in the vehicles first?" Putnam said. "This moves both forward together, but it's not totally dependent on the taxpayer to be successful."

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, told the groundbreaking event audience that he plans to introduce a bill in the 2013 legislative session to help school districts overcome the challenge of buying school buses such as those used by Leon County Schools.​

This article was first published by The Florida Current.

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