N.C. may give natural gas vehicles an unfair boost
BY STUART WEIDIE
A misguided strategy to create demand for natural gas in North Carolina is turning into legislation that robs our state of a balanced market for alternative fuels.
Last week the state Senate Energy Legislative Research Commission unveiled a plan that would force all public school buses to run on compressed natural gas, or CNG, and would also force the state Department of Transportation to convert half of its pickup truck fleet to CNG. The plan completely excludes propane autogas, our nation’s most widely used alternative fuel.
Autogas powers 17 million vehicles worldwide. It is the third most common transportation fuel after gasoline and diesel, far outpacing natural gas. Both autogas and natural gas are clean, abundant and American-made. But unlike natural gas, autogas is affordable to implement.
One hundred propane autogas fueling stations could be installed in North Carolina, one in every single county, for the cost of just three CNG stations. Converting a vehicle to autogas costs a third as much as converting a vehicle to natural gas. In addition, autogas vehicles fill up as quickly as conventional gasoline vehicles, while natural gas vehicles take 30 minutes or more to fuel.
Our legislators should not be picking favorites; they should be ensuring that those in charge of our school bus and DOT fleets can choose the most economical and clean fuel available.
North Carolina fleets that are already using autogas include the Raleigh Police Department, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, Davidson County Transportation Department, Gaston County Access, Iredell County Area Transportation System, the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain Mobility of Asheville, the Town of Knightdale and the Biltmore Estate. These fleets are making the shift without a legislative mandate, because switching to autogas makes good business sense. They’re reducing emissions and using an American-made fuel while saving more than $1.50 per gallon compared to gasoline (Alliance AutoGas fleet customers get 85-90 percent of the range of gasoline or diesel vehicles).
Meanwhile, the state Senate has declined to hear a presentation from the propane industry.
Our industry representatives typically hear complaints like, “Propane follows oil prices and can be too expensive.” It is true that propane historically follows oil prices, but propane trades at anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of the price of crude oil. Autogas prices over the past two years have averaged $1.58 less per gallon than gasoline.
Our legislature should be more careful about picking favorites when it comes to alternative fuel technologies; it should not distort the marketplace in favor of special interests. When it comes to clean, American-made alternative fuels, North Carolina’s fleets should be free to make their own natural selection.
Stuart Weidie is the CEO of Blossman Gas, president of Asheville-based Alliance AutoGas and the founder of Autogas for America. More information is at www.allianceautogas.com.