Wyoming lawmakers eye help for natural gas vehicles

The environment for compressed-natural-gas-powered vehicles in Wyoming presents a dilemma.

There are few natural-gas-powered vehicles in Wyoming, and there aren’t many filling stations. It’s hard to build one without the other.

Monday, members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee meeting in Casper supported legislation to create a better market for vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, or CNG.

Creating incentives

The group formed a five-member subcommittee to draft laws creating incentives for new CNG infrastructure, such as filling stations, and ease the cost of converting gasoline-fueled cars to CNG.

The committee’s formation came after a proposal from industry representatives to allocate loan funding for CNG vehicle conversions and infrastructure, which Chesapeake Energy spokesman John Dill said could benefit the state and the industry.

“If there’s a way we can make this work, we’d certainly like to do so,” he said.

Compressed natural gas is an alternative fuel that is cleaner and cheaper than gasoline. The average price of CNG nationally was $2.14 per gallon Monday, according to CNGPrices.com.

Among the possibilities proposed by Dill and representatives for Encana and the Wyoming Petroleum Marketers’ Association was allocating $5 million from the state’s challenge loan program to be used in CNG vehicle and filling station development. Dill said after the meeting that the number was proposed by the Wyoming Business Council.

CNG vehicles have a varied history of support in Wyoming. Last year, lawmakers approved a $200,000 pilot project to retrofit state vehicles to run on natural gas.

Governor gives support

Gov. Matt Mead was among four governors in the country who voiced support for the industry in a memorandum asking automakers for affordable CNG vehicles last November.

Mead’s office reaffirmed that attitude Monday.

“Gov. Mead believes that natural gas has great potential as a transportation fuel,” said Renny MacKay, the governor’s communications director, via email. “Gov. Mead is interested in the work of this committee and hopes he and his staff can provide assistance as necessary.”

However, a bill introduced last winter by Rep. Jim Roscoe, D-Wilson, subsidizing the creation of natural gas pump stations failed.

Industry representatives told the committee Monday that demand for the fuel is growing. Paul Ulrich, an Encana Oil and Gas representative, said the company has converted most of its vehicles to CNG. Fremont County and the Sublette County School District have also either converted or begun the process.

But the industry can’t take off, Dill said, until there are more pumps in Wyoming. There are eight active pumps — four public, four private — in the state, with three more stations planned.

Dill said it would take about a dozen more pumps for CNG’s presence in the state to take hold.

The time for Wyoming to act is now, said Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, the committee co-chairman.

“We don’t need to talk about it anymore,” he said. “We can see the potential. Let’s do something.”

The committee formed a five-member subcommittee chaired by Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper, and Roscoe, neither of whom will return to office in 2013. Reps. Jim Byrd, D-Laramie, and Glenn Moniz, R-Laramie, and Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, round out the subcommittee.

Roscoe said at the meeting that a bill was drafted last year addressing CNG vehicles, and the subcommittee could use that as a guide. Roscoe added that he’d like to see incentives for school districts to convert buses to CNG.

“There’s no real incentive to shift,” he said. “We need to put up some money to get them started.”

Jennings said he’d like to see the state commit to purchasing a number of CNG-powered vehicles in the future, to create a stronger market for businesses to add natural gas pump stations.

Members of the subcommittee are expected to bring a bill back to the committee in October. It would then be a committee-sponsored bill.

Dill said after the meeting that he’s “gratified” with the committee’s action. Chesapeake spokeswoman Kelsey Campbell said Monday afternoon that the company is looking forward to working with the committee.

Randy Teeuwen, an Encana spokesman, declined to comment on Jennings and Roscoe chairing the committee despite leaving office at the end of the year. He said Encana is also pleased with the committee’s action.

“Encana enthusiastically supports the use of CNG in Wyoming and elsewhere,” he said via email. “As a cleaner-burning fuel that’s abundant and economical, we believe natural gas is important to Wyoming’s energy future.”

Read more: http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/wyoming/wyoming-lawmakers-eye-help-for-natural-gas-vehicles/article_9a1664a9-2e0e-5324-8a98-a54cc3cd7d0d.html#ixzz24qmyCxTm​

This article was first published by Billings Gazette.

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