With one to two dozen new stations popping up annually in California, the opening of another compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station for vehicles in Bakersfield, CA, earlier this month was not viewed as anything extraordinary by the industry, even in a period of record high wholesale natural gas prices.

Compared to gasoline, the CNG is going for the equivalent of under $1.90/gallon, compared to California’s gasoline pump prices of well over $2/gallon, the president of the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition told NGI.

The station that opened earlier this month in Bakersfield is the first individually owned one in the area; most are operated by the utilities or other large fleet operators and public transportation systems. This is part of the largest natural gas transportation fueling network in the United States.

“Even at a time of very high natural gas prices for the residential, commercial and industrial markets, natural gas as a transportation fuel is attractively priced,” said Mike Eaves, president of the state NGV Coalition. “Natural gas fuel prices range from $1.80-$1.99-per-gallon today at a time of record natural gas prices, but that is in an environment where gasoline is still selling for $2.20 or more-per-gallon in California.”

Eaves said about half the cost of natural gas for transportation is the cost of compression and the cost of maintaining the stations. He said there are more than 25,000 NGV-equipped vehicles in California, about 5,000 of which are heavy duty vehicles, such as buses, refuse trucks, school buses, etc. Light duty fleet vehicles make up the bulk of the rest, which include consumer vehicles like a Honda Civic GX model.

There are about 300 fueling stations in the state — mostly CNG, but with what Eaves called a “growing network of liquefied natural gas (LNG) stations” that provide LNG for trucks and CNG for light-duty vehicles. About 150 of the stations have public access in which individuals can use major credit cards to run their vehicles on natural gas.

“The business model for the industry has been to focus and concentrate on high-fuel-use fleets,” Eaves said. “But the business plan also now says that whenever we build stations, we try to build them with public access for a growing population of NGVs. Since public grant monies are generally used to help fleet/fuel providers build new stations, it has been easy to make one condition of the grants that stations built with grant funds be public access.”

Thus, the new station that opened to the public in Bakersfield was partially funded by a $160,000 grant from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Next year, a new home fueling model for CNG will usher in a “new phase” for the industry in California, Eaves said. Honda and a refueling manufacturer are going to introduce equipment that can be fitted into a garage to allow consumer vehicles to be refilled overnight.

“No NGV maker has ever marketed their product to the (mass) consumer, so this will be a first,” Eaves said.

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