From coast to coast, natural gas as a transportation fuel emerged in several parts of the nation this month, addressing both the production of fleet vehicles and the fueling infrastructure needed to sustain an uptick in fleets switching to natural gas. New milestones were reported in the West, Midwest and East.

In a state that currently has only three natural gas transportation fueling outlets, New Jersey Natural Gas (NJNG) last Thursday asked state regulators to approve its plans to invest up to $15 million in building an infrastructure for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle fuels in three counties: Monmouth, Ocean and Morris. At about the same time, Ford Motor Co. cited increased interest in its CNG taxicabs, and an Indiana milk producer announced a switch to CNG-fueled trucks.

With approval from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, NJNG envisions building up to 10 fueling stations at host company facilities throughout its service territory. Locations could be at private companies and/or public-sector/municipal organizations. The utility said the host organizations would use the stations for their own fleets and open the facilities to the public.

NJNG made clear in its filing it wants to address the chicken-egg dilemma facing alternative fuel vehicles by creating an infrastructure that will encourage greater fleet and individual use of natural gas-powered vehicles.

Based on the gas utility’s filing, current fuel prices would place the natural gas used in transportation at a $1.60/gallon of gasoline equivalent, with 30% less greenhouse gas emissions, compared with diesel, the utility estimated.

NJNG said it would begin construction soon after receiving project approval. Construction could begin by the end of next year, the filing indicated. NJNG then would file with the state regulators to recover the costs of the program in rates in October 2012.

Meanwhile, Ford reported growing interest in its CNG-fueled Transit Connect Taxis, citing recent orders from taxicab companies in the Southern California; Chicago; West Haven, CT; Las Vegas, NV; and St. Louis areas. The Southern California cab companies have ordered 120 of the CNG vehicles; West Haven another 70; and Chicago 12 of them.

Ford’s taxi model was part of a formal opening in Chicago of a new CNG fueling station, developed and operated by Clean Energy Fuels Corp., the Seal Beach, CA-based firm that was founded by oil/gas billionaire T. Boone Pickens. The two Southern California cab companies making the CNG vehicle purchases are Yellow Cab of Anaheim and Cabco Yellow Inc. of Orange County.

Ford representatives indicated they expect the CNG vehicle market to grow with upcoming climate change-inspired more stringent California and federal rules regarding vehicle emissions.

Separately, Clean Energy signed a contract with a major Indiana-based milk producer to build and operate a CNG fueling station for 42 delivery trucks serving portions of Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. Fair Oaks Dairy’s unit, Renewable Dairy Fuels, worked out the deal with Clean Energy to establish and run the facility for dispensing CNG for milk-hauling trucks the dairy plans to use.

The CNG-powered trucks are scheduled to replace diesel-powered models now being used. The facility, which is scheduled to open in northern Indiana this fall, will have public access; a second facility is planned in southern Indiana. Renewable Dairy Fuels has indicated that it plans to produce biomethane from dairy cattle waste and pipe the biogas directly to the Fair Oaks station for onsite conversion to CNG vehicle fuel by Clean Energy.

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