Fuel for the future

PSNC EnergyUsing natural gas as a vehicle fuel is nothing new.  In the United States, it’s been a transportation fuel since World War II.

But who has compressed natural gas, better known as CNG, in their tank today? 

From a global perspective, approximately ten million vehicles fueled by CNG are currently on the road, but only 150,000 of them are driven in the United States.  However, more and more companies with motor fleets are expressing interest in adding natural gas vehicles (NGVs) or converting existing vehicles to run on CNG.

As a natural gas utility, PSNC Energy is an expert on CNG as an abundant alternative to gasoline.

We initiated a CNG program in the early 1990s. At that time, the federal Energy Policy Act was in effect, which put alternative fueled vehicle requirements on federal, state and private fleets. So we installed CNG fueling stations in Raleigh, Gastonia and Asheville and became a resource for fleet operators across their service territory.

However, interest in CNG dwindled over the years and our stations took a back seat.

Fast forward two decades. Interest is back - following a period of years when we saw the fall out from gasoline supply and prices affected by geo-political incidents, hurricane damage to oil refineries along our Gulf Coast and market speculation. 

But most of all – record high prices got everyone’s attention.

Concern about dependence on foreign oil and the environment positions natural gas as an outstanding fuel replacement for gasoline and diesel, but it’s price that continues to be the driving factor behind the renewed interest in CNG . . . . . particularly in the commercial fleet market, which is dominated by low mileage, high emissions vehicles.

And companies in the business of hauling trash have been particularly interested.

In fact, last summer, PSNC Energy partnered with a large regional refuse company to provide natural gas service for their newly installed CNG compressor station in Durham. Their company now operates 19 CNG trash trucks and one CNG service vehicle in the Triangle area

Their customers benefit from cleaner air, pricing stability, and quieter operations on trash pick-up days.  And in the early morning hours, a quiet trash truck can be pretty meaningful.

At PSNC Energy, we’re also adding more CNG-fueled vehicles to our own fleet. Currently we have 40 natural gas fueled vehicles on the road, and we’ve set a goal of adding 150 more by 2017.

At the same time, we’re installing more CNG stations at our existing operations centers.

Right now, we operate two CNG stations in Raleigh. One at 4211 Global Street in Raleigh and a second one at 2712-A Discovery Drive.   We also have one on our corporate campus in Gastonia at 800 Gaston Road.  All three of these stations are available 24/7 for public use and accept major credit cards.

Later this year, we’ll open a CNG station at 2541 Whilden Road in Durham and another one in Iredell County at 121 Houston Road in the community of Troutman. We have plans to add four more station over the next couple of years. Locations include our operations centers in Apex, Chapel Hill, Asheville and northern Durham. 

And while these CNG stations are primarily built to serve the needs of our own CNG fleet, we’re making every effort to make our stations available to the public. And so far, we’ve been successful.

According to the American Gas Association, the period between 2009 and 2012 posted a growth rate of 13%, plus the United States is the world’s largest natural gas producer.

So we’ve got an abundant supply and accessibility to public CNG stations is steadily increasing.  And cost remains low. Compared to a gallon of gas, CNG currently costs $1.66 per gaseous gallon equivalent.

We think the timing is right for CNG, and we’ll continue to promote our natural gas service and offer our expertise on the low-cost, clean-burning advantages of using natural gas as a transportation fuel.

Author: Jerry O'Keeffe, Manager - Large Accounts, Raleigh & Durham Regions, PSNC Energy

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