City builds natural-gas station

Jay Valentine and Tim Barker with the city of Grand Junction examine pipe at the site of a new compressed natural-gas station to be built west of the city shops. It will have access to Riverside Parkway.

In the realm of alternative fuels for transportation, it’s the old chicken-and-the egg conundrum of which should come first: investing in fueling infrastructure or buying the vehicles that run on the fuels.

In Grand Junction, city leaders first purchased several replacement fleet vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. But by November, a local station for fueling government and private-industry vehicles, as well as consumers’ personal compressed natural gas vehicles, should be up and running.

Grand Junction is constructing a compressed natural-gas station that will be located west of the city shops, with access off Riverside Parkway. Larger vehicles, such as the city’s dump trucks and some street sweepers, will use a slow-fill station and fuel up overnight. Consumers with vehicles that run on compressed natural gas can fill up at an adjoining fast-fill station, a system that is as speedy and easy to use as standard gasoline pumps.

The creation of a fast-fill station in Grand Junction will help travelers connect their journeys from Salt Lake City to Denver, filling in what’s been identified as a “missing piece” by bridging what had been a gap along the Interstate 70 route.

Compressed natural gas, or CNG, often is less expensive than gasoline or diesel. The alternative fuel is much more clean-burning than gasoline and diesel, and is locally abundant on the Western Slope and as a domestic fuel source.

Funding for the city’s fast-fill station was made possible by a $120,000 grant from the Governor’s Energy Office and a $150,000 partnership from Encana.

“There are benefits for us to be doing this,” said Jay Valentine, assistant financial operations manager for Grand Junction. “When gas was $4 a gallon we had to include that true cost into our budgets. We just wanted to have some alternatives.”



Like the city of Grand Junction, Kirk Swallow of Rocky Mountain Alternative Fueling also received a state grant to help create a CNG fueling station in Rifle. Swallow, who owns a Shell gas station at 101 Railroad Ave., is adding CNG fueling fast-fill pump for commuters and for industry vehicles.

“Our goal is to be pumping some gas before the end of the year,” he said.

Plans for a similar station in Parachute, however, have stalled. Swallow received $675,285 in state funding for the Rifle project. Even with that amount, he said he’ll have to contribute about $150,000 to make the project a reality. The proposed Parachute CNG fueling station would cost $400,000 out-of-pocket, a price tag he couldn’t stomach at this time, he said.

“We’ll let the cars catch up with the infrastructure,” Swallow said.

The Rifle project came together because of commitments from several oil companies to fuel up at the site. Swallow had one private consumer call and ask when his station will be open.

The only CNG vehicle that can be purchased from dealers is the Honda Civic GX. Other car companies are expected to release new models of CNG or Natural Gas Vehicles, NGV, this fall.

For about $10,000–$12,000 vehicles can be converted to CNG or to accept both fuel and CNG, called bi-fuel.

Until the year’s end, Colorado offers incentives of $2,000 for adding an in-home refueling station, a project estimated at about $5,000.

Until 2016, Colorado residents can receive up to 75 percent back on conversion costs if the vehicles are certified to meet standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Colorado has an estimated 1,000 CNG vehicles on the road and about 23 refueling stations, all of which are in the greater Denver area.

Ten of those stations are open to private use. California and Utah are leading the way with the alternative fuel.

California has an estimated 38,000 CNG vehicles on the road and about 235 fueling stations. Utah boasts about 10,000 CNG vehicles with 63 fueling stations.

Grand Junction is working with partners to start up its CNG station, but the goal is to turn the fast-fill enterprise of the station over to the private sector eventually, city leaders said.

Two Grand Valley Transit busses will run on the new fuel. The city has ordered four trash-hauling trucks to run on CNG and, if the budget allows, will also replace a street sweeper truck and upgrade another trash-hauling vehicle to accept CNG.

City leaders also have heard interest in a long-distance shuttle company considering the switch to CNG.

In an effort to offset any energy expenditures by the city’s 10 trash-hauling trucks, the city, along with Xcel Energy, is looking into the possibility of converting methane gas from the Persigo Wastewater Treatment plant into natural gas. CNG is 90 percent methane.

“That’s the exciting thing about compressed natural gas,” Valentine said. “It’s the most sustainable thing for the city.”

Encana, for example, has a corporate mandate to replace any vehicles that have too many miles with a CNG vehicle or convert the fuel tanks to accept CNG.

The company builds CNG stations for its vehicles where there are no other options for refueling, but it doesn’t intend to “be in the natural gas, gas station business,” said Sherrie Merrow, spokeswoman for Encana Natural Gas Inc., a group formed by Encana to pursue new markets for natural gas.

The trend in natural gas is extending to powering gas rigs with natural gas, Merrow said, especially in light of potential new regulations that could levy hefty fines on drillers who pollute an area, say by powering rigs with diesel.

As governments and companies with fleet vehicles start to make the switch, it may take longer, if ever, for consumers to catch on.

“They are going to wait for choices in vehicles and wait until there’s a plan for public access,” Merrow said. “That’s of interest to many but not to all.”


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