CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hundreds of natural gas and automotive industry representatives are in Charleston this week touting the potential benefits of natural gas-powered vehicles at the first-ever Appalachian Basin NGV Expo and Conference at the Charleston Civic Center.
The three-day event, hosted by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, is combining seminars, exhibits and demonstrations of vehicles that have been converted to natural gas.
Officials hope the event will entice more government agencies and businesses to convert their fleets.
Corky DeMarco, executive director of the association, said the Appalachian region is an ideal location for developing a natural gas vehicle infrastructure because of low-cost natural gas being extracted from the Marcellus shale.
"This is a home-grown fuel," DeMarco said.
State officials tried to get agencies and consumers and businesses to switch to natural gas vehicles in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but a sustained drop in gasoline prices made the transition less enticing.
Fast-forward 20 years, and $3-plus gasoline and diesel is helping natural gas take off again.
"Today's effort is about economics," DeMarco said. "It's selling at half the price."
The state is working to create demand and develop infrastructure for the vehicles.
In February, the governor's Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force recommended the state convert 25 percent of its 7,811 fleet vehicles to compressed natural gas over the next four years. It also recommended new tax credits worth up to $400,000 for companies to build new filling stations.
Stephen Moore of vehicle-conversion firm CNG Innovations in Ripley said one of the biggest roadblocks to developing a natural gas vehicle market in the state is the lack of filling stations.
"The lack of infrastructure is the real impediment to growth," Moore said.
In January, IGS Energy-CNG Services announced it would spend $10 million to build four compressed natural gas fueling stations along Interstate 79, including one at the Bigley Avenue Foodland in Charleston.
Phil Pfister, Chesapeake Energy corporate development coordinator and adviser to Tomblin's natural gas vehicle task force, said the first of the four stations is expected to open in Bridgeport during the fourth quarter.
The Charleston station should open in the months after the Bridgeport station opens, Pfister said.
In addition to fueling stations open to the public, officials also are promoting home filling stations tied directly into a natural gas line.