CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state is hoping to solve the chicken-or-egg problem for natural gas as a fuel (how can you use it to run vehicles when there aren't any fueling stations?) by converting a portion of the state's fleet to compressed natural gas as fueling stations are built.
Paul Mattox, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force has recommended the state convert 25 percent or 1,952 of the state's 7,811 fleet vehicles to compressed natural gas in four years.
T.J. Meadows, West Virginia operations manager for IGS Energy, noted that IGS announced in January that it is building three natural gas filling stations along Interstate 79 in West Virginia. One will be in Charleston.
Mattox said the state is looking at ordering 20 vehicles this year that will burn either regular gasoline or compressed natural gas.
"As we get more stations, more of the fleet will be converted — that's the governor's goal," he said.
Mattox and Meadows spoke at a University of Charleston forum Monday evening titled, "Natural Gas: The Future." Also speaking were Henry Harmon, president and chief executive officer of Triana Energy, and Mary Beth Anderson, director of corporate development at Chesapeake Energy Corp. Scott Bellamy, dean of the university's School of Business, was moderator.
"We're looking at improving the air quality," Mattox said. "We're also looking at saving the taxpayers money since compressed natural gas is a cheaper fuel. Those are two benefits the task force has looked at."
Mattox said all of the vehicle manufacturers are moving toward making vehicles that operate on compressed natural gas.
"On the upcoming state purchase order there will be 10 different types of vehicles we'll be able to choose from," he said.
Also, in conjunction with the governor's task force, the West Virginia Department of Education last year approved a policy allowing the use of propane as an alternative fuel for school buses, Mattox said.
As a result, a specification for propane-fueled vehicles was included in the request for bids for the statewide purchase of school buses after July 1.
About 3,000 school buses run every school day in West Virginia, according to the task force's report. The buses travel more than 46 million miles a year. "The adoption of propane could save an average of $3,100 per bus annually," the task force said.
Meadows said that with current market prices, consumers who use vehicles that run on compressed natural gas could save 30 to 50 percent over conventional fuel. "In addition, compressed natural gas is very clean," he said.
"About $1.25 billion is spent daily in America on foreign oil," Meadows said. "Why send all of those dollars offshore when we can use a cheap, abundant resources produced right here in West Virginia?"