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Weather, President's Remarks Heat Up NGV Talk

Super-frigid temperatures throughout the eastern half of the nation combined with President Obama's boost for natural gas in his State of the Union speech shined an ever-brighter light on the use of natural gas vehicles (NGV). In both cases, alternative fuel transportation advocates got a chance to further state their case.

After Obama lit the torch last Tuesday, the American Gas Association took off running on Thursday, touting proposed new federal legislation bidding to make it easier for long-haul truck drivers to access and make use of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) in their vehicles.

Separately, a number of the nation's leading fleet operators who have been touting NGVs for some time, stepped up to order more of them earlier this month.

But the harsh weather that sent spot prices for natural gas soaring past $100 threatened to dampen the recent run of euphoria among NGV advocates. However on Thursday, a major trade clearinghouse for fleet operators, Fleets and Fuels newsletter, published a commentary alleging that the price spikes won't have any long-term effect on the natural gas transportation fuels sector.

"Spiking prices for natural gas on the spot market are unlikely to have much effect on the cost of CNG for vehicles," according to Patrick Couch, project director for Fleets and Fuels publisher, GNA - Gladstein Neandross & Associates. Couch did say, however, that the spikes could raise concerns about the long-term stability of gas prices.

"The bottom line here is that this is a short-term price spike that won't significantly affect customers with longer term fuel price contracts or purchases through local utilities."

As AGA CEO Dave McCurdy underscored with his remarks on the proposed Congressional legislation by U.S. Reps. Lee Terry (R-NE) and Sam Graves (R-MO), low natural gas prices relative to other transportation fuels are one of the key drivers for NGVs, particularly among the long-haul fleet operators.

"NGVs offer significant savings, produce lower tailpipe emissions and help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said McCurdy, noting that the new legislative proposal would help eliminate current weight restrictions for heavy duty trucks for natural gas-fueled vehicles that force truck operators to reduce their cargo loads to compensate for heavy NGV tanks.

"Updating the weight allowance for heavy duty trucks would mean operators would not need to make that tradeoff," said an AGA spokesperson, who also paraphrased President Obama's call for building more fueling stations so more cars and trucks can "shift from foreign oil to America natural gas."

Meanwhile, United Parcel Service (UPS), Penske Truck Leasing and Valley Proteins in North Carolina added more NGVs to their respective fleets. UPS announced it would end this year with more than 1,000 of its vehicles running on LNG. Fleet sector sources indicated that more than one fuel supplier and at least one LNG truck maker are in discussions with UPS on the expansion of LNG trucks.

Penske announced it has at least 200 CNG-fuel trucks for rental or long-term leases throughout all five of its U.S. regions. The vehicles are Cummins Westport-powered Freightliner trucks -- both 8.9- and 11.9-liter models. Penske is doubling plans the company talked about last June at the ACT Expo 2013 in Washington, DC.

In North Carolina, Valley Protein is using 10 new CNG Kenworth T800 tractor-trucks for its business recycling cooking grease, fat oils and grease from traps and inedible meat products for making various products, including biodiesel. Leasing the CNG trucks from PacLease, the company officials said they wanted to be "earlier adopters of natural gas trucks."

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