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AGL Eyes CNG Stations as NGV Options Expand

AGL Resources' Atlanta Gas Light Co. said Wednesday it has received qualified proposals from the city of Atlanta and seven commercial operators to build up to nine new compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations throughout Georgia under a program authorized by state regulators last year (see Daily GPI, Nov. 2, 2011). The first station is slated to open in mid-2013.

The utility ratepayer-supported effort in Georgia, for which Atlanta Gas released a request for proposals (RFP) in March, is one of a growing number of efforts around the country aimed at expanding the fueling infrastructure for natural gas vehicles (NGV), which has taken on growing interest among fleet operators with the continuing decline of domestic gas prices. In addition to AGL, NGV infrastructure is being boosted by many big natural gas utilities and producers.

In Georgia over the next three months each of the potential station owners have to finalize contracts with fleet customers to meet minimum annual CNG purchase requirements at each proposed station, an Atlanta Gas spokesperson said. Retailers that are successful in fulfilling the post-RFP requirements are eligible to sign service agreements with the AGL utility and obtain CNG service under a rate approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC).

The proposed CNG fueling stations would be in metropolitan Atlanta, Macon, Savannah and Valdosta, with five planned for the metropolitan area, including two in Atlanta. They would all be part of the $11.57 million AGL utility plant authorized by the PSC. The utility would install the needed compression and storage equipment for the fueling station network.

Atlanta Gas President Steve Lindsey said the response to the RFP indicates "strong support for natural gas to fuel vehicles," carrying the potential to make CNG more accessible to citizens throughout the state. "The domestically abundant supply of natural gas makes it a great time to invest in CNG vehicles to save money, decrease dependence on foreign oil and reduce emissions."

In addition to the city of Atlanta, the seven potential CNG station owners are Horizon Fuels, Premier Transportation, FireSide Natural Gas, Mansfield Oil, Nopetro;,Colonial Group Inc., and The Langdale Co.

Major gas industry players this year have launched some aggressive efforts to expand CNG and LNG infrastructure for transportation. At the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo 2012 conference in Long Beach, CA, in mid-May several industry executives noted that NGVs have become a full commercial sector and no longer is a " science project" (see Daily GPI, May 21).

As an example, Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) utility has taken steps to expand NGV fueling options throughout its service area. "One of the core responsibilities [of our] NGV program is to assist customers in the construction of public and private stations throughout our service territory," said a spokesperson.

SoCalGas has worked closely with Seal Beach, CA-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. to provide gas utility pipeline extensions and upgrades. The gas utility also has a proposal pending at the state regulatory commission to establish a compression tariff that would make it easier for private- and public-sector organizations to establish commercial NGV fueling stations.

Anticipating continued growth in demand for NGV infrastructure, SoCalGas has committed to upgrading six of its public-access CNG stations by the end of 2014. "We are installing new or additional compressors and expanding fuel storage capacity at the stations," the spokesperson said. "We are seeing an increase in the volume of fuel and the number of transactions at [our] fueling stations."

In April, for example, SoCalGas fuel volume was 18% higher than March, and the number of transactions increased by 15%, the spokesperson said. "By the end of 2015, we will have also constructed two additional new public stations -- one in Lancaster, 40 miles north of downtown Los Angeles; and the other in Murrieta in the desert region east of Palm Springs, CA." It also plans to add 1,000 more NGVs to its utility fleet.

In other areas, the activity is picking up in similar fashion. Houston-based Waste Management announced plans to expand its fleet of CNG-powered trucks by 35 vehicles and open a new CNG fueling station in Conroe, TX. The refuse hauler and recycler has five CNG-powered trash collection trucks now in its Houston fleet.

Dan Kirschner, executive director at the Northwest Gas Association (NGA), designated FortisBC, based in British Columbia (BC), as the regional leader in NGVs on both sides of the international border. Others, such as Avista, NW Natural and Puget Sound Energy, are still "working their way into the NGV sector," Kirschner said.

In May the BC government announced a program to encourage the adoption of natural gas for transportation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and FortisBC has been authorized to provide incentive funding to qualified heavy-duty fleet owners in BC. Customers do not have to use its fueling services, but for those who want it, the BC utility can provide fueling station service from its available network.

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