Moving toward CNG vehicles makes sense

Supporting a community-based initiative to build a second compressed natural gas filling station in Grand Junction, we think, is a no-brainer.

The project creates cost-saving opportunities for local businesses and supports the growth of an important industry within our regional economy, with no discernible downside.

The speed with which Grand Junction civic leaders were able to enlist broad support for the plan is as impressive as the target goals. Advocates for CNG are trying to create a demand for a second station by securing commitments from local companies to convert fleets of service trucks and heavy-duty pickups to run on natural gas.

Once they establish a need for a second CNG station, project leaders will use that data to apply for federal grant dollars, administered by the Colorado Energy Office, to help with construction costs.

CNG has several benefits. It’s cheaper than petroleum, less susceptible to price fluctuations and it burns more cleanly. But few vehicles are equipped to take advantage of it.

It creates a “chicken-or-the egg” problem. No one wants to convert to CNG because there aren’t enough filling stations, and no one wants to build a station without consumer demand.

Enter Clean Energy Economy for the Region, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Carbondale. The group provides technical assistance in nine Colorado counties to accelerate the shift to alternative transportation fuels through its “Refuel Colorado Fleets” program.

Mike Ogburn, who heads CLEER’s clean-vehicle technolgy program, provided an overview of the plan for a new station at a Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce energy briefing on Wednesday.

Grand Junction is uniquely poised to emerge as a leading grant recipient, Ogburn said. The city has already made a commitment to CNG. It has 19 CNG vehicles and jointly operates the only CNG filling station in town. Grand Junction lies in a major transportation corridor, and there are lots of fleet vehicles on the road.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has been one of the nation’s biggest cheerleaders for CNG as a transportation fuel.

“The governor has gone above and beyond in supporting CNG,” said David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association. “I think it’s our job as a community to play a leadership role in creating new markets for natural gas. There’s a symbolism behind this that’s important.”

We agree. Increased use of natural gas in vehicles diversifies Colorado’s portfolio, supports locally produced energy, improves air quality and can save money through lower fuel costs.

CLEER offers free fleet analysis that can help business owners calculate financial benefits, tax credits and determine overall return on investment. But it’s a service without a demand until more filling stations pop up. Hickenlooper’s goal is to create a network of CNG stations so drivers can traverse the state powered by Colorado-produced gas.

Drivers in Mesa County spend about $100 million a year on foreign oil, according to CLEER. Driving on CNG keeps those dollars in our economy. We hope the community-led effort succeeds.


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