CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force is homing in on a way to build the necessary infrastructure to fuel natural gas vehicles across the state.
It's a chicken-or-egg problem: How can government agencies move to natural gas vehicle fleets without first having refueling stations? On the other hand, who would build a refueling station without first having demand for the product?
The committee hopes to have possible solutions ready for lawmakers to review in mid-January.
The governor's task force held its final scheduled meeting at the state Capitol Thursday to discuss how to build a sizable natural gas vehicle fleet and fueling system.
Over the next few weeks, they plan to draft a final plan for the Legislature to review during interim committee meetings in January.
The benefits of natural gas as a fuel are clear: It's cleaner, abundant and costs about half as much as gasoline.
However, it will take a lot of money to build the necessary filling stations and infrastructure to fuel natural gas vehicles.
Hallie Mason, director of public policy for the Tomblin administration, said the state is trying to foster partnerships with private companies to encourage them to invest in the infrastructure.
Mason said switching vehicles to natural gas makes good economic sense for both the state and private entities.
"We believe that this can happen, that it will happen, and once consumers see that natural gas prices at the pump are half of that as traditional gasoline, then we believe consumers will be excited about that," she said.
Task force members want the state to come up with some type of incentive or tax credit program to encourage filling station owners and consumers to make the switch.
The key will be demonstrating demand.
"It takes a lot of vehicles doing a lot of fueling to give a recovery on the cost of infrastructure" said task force member Frank McCullough, an executive at Spring Creek Energy in Summersville.
McCullough was the chairman of the West Virginia Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition in the early 1990s. That organization was set up by former Gov. Gaston Caperton to establish a natural gas vehicle fuel infrastructure system in the state.
That effort failed when gasoline prices took a tumble. When that happened, major vehicle manufacturers lost interest in natural gas vehicles.