Natural gas vehicle (NGV) use would be encouraged under a competitive grant program included in the $2.3 trillion omnibus spending and Covid-19 relief package signed by President Trump on Sunday (Dec. 27).

The legislative package includes a directive to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to divert its recent emphasis on electric vehicles (EV) to refocus on low- and no-emission funding to support qualifying technologies such as NGVs.

In a low- or no-emissions bus program covered in the latest transportation/housing appropriations, FTA is directed to implement a competitive grant program that encourages a variety of different fuel types, including EVs, NGVs, hydrogen and other alternatives, said Daniel Gage, president of the NGVAmerica trade association.

“FTA should consider procurements that reduce an agency’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and considers the resources available to do so,” he said. “FTA needs to remember that for some, the transition to zero emissions requires the use of low-emission buses to bridge the funding and technology gaps.”

Gage said the change by FTA would help reduce pollution in urban areas and open the door for more use of renewable natural gas in transit bus fleets. In addition to the FTA language, Congress’s spending package also includes regular appropriations for research and development that NGVAmerica has championed the last several years as part of U.S. Department of Energy funding, Gage said.

NGVAmerica earlier in December released a report underscoring the advantages of NGV buses in terms of their affordability, effectiveness and reliability among alternative fuel transit options.

The adoption of the new spending package also extended for another year the federal alternative fuel tax credit (AFTC) through 2021. NGVs get 50 cents/gallon, while propane credits are 36 cents/gallon. Fueling equipment is eligible for 30% of the cost, not to exceed $30,000 per property for both natural gas and propane transportation fuels.

Separately, California regulators in mid-December established measures to accelerate EV and infrastructure deployment in the state, including strategies to help EVs charge in ways that are beneficial for the electrical grid and new rate structures to help commercial EV customers save money. 

Action by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) marked new steps toward meeting the state’s ambitious clean transportation goals, including Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent executive order phasing out the sale in the state of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035. Pursuant to a 2019 state law (Senate Bill 676), regulators have adopted strategies, metrics and near-term objectives to encourage vehicle grid integration (VGI) to use EVs as an energy resource that can help meet the needs of the grid.

The CPUC adopted several recommendations from its VGI Working Group, one being to use EVs to provide power to essential buildings during wildfire preventive public safety power shutoffs.