Last updated: July 17. 2013 6:09PM - 498 Views
Jared Hunt, Charleston Daily Mail

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(MCT) CHARLESTON -- Hundreds of natural gas and automotive industry representatives were 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.
As compared to the public filling stations that operate like gasoline pumps, the home filling stations have less pressure and fill tanks more slowly -- at a rate of a half gallon to two gallons an hour.
Right now the home-based units cost about $5,000. Phister said as the market for natural gas vehicles grows, the price of home units will come down.
"The industry is working to bring the cost of the units down to under a couple thousand dollars," he said.
Automobile dealers are currently selling relatively few models manufactured with natural gas fueling options.
Pfister said industry officials hope that number will expand to a couple dozen models in the coming years.
Until then, firms like CNG Innovations say they are ready to adapt existing vehicles to use natural gas as well as gasoline.
The conversions cost $8,000 to $10,000, depending on the type of vehicle. Those costs can be offset by tax credits.
CNG Innovations President Michael Moore said once the conversion kit is installed, the driver hits a button to activate the natural gas system.
Once the vehicle's engine gets above 1,600 revolutions per minute, it switches from gasoline to natural gas.
"Once it hits 1,600 RPMs, it will run on natural gas until it runs out or you hit the button to take it off natural gas," Moore said.
People inside the vehicle wouldn't detect the switch.
"I challenge you to feel a difference," Moore said.
The natural gas vehicle expo runs through Wednesday at the Charleston Civic Center.
While Tuesday's events were for industry officials, the general public could attend events, browse the showroom and test vehicles last Wednesday at the Civic Center.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.
(c) 2013 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)
Visit the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.) at www.dailymail.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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