Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead last week signed into law advances to use natural gas for transportation in a state rich in gas reserves.

Senate File (SF) 52 would require that state agencies, the University of Wyoming and community colleges buy at least one-half of their replacement fleet vehicles from those that operate on compressed natural gas (CNG). Schools or agencies may waive the CNG vehicle obligation, however, if buying the natural gas vehicles (NGV) proves to be infeasible or economically impractical.

SF 23 allows businesses to apply for loans of up to $1 million as long as it is not more than 75% of the cost to install NGV fueling facilities. The original bill also would have provided two years of interest-free payments. Amended bills passed both houses of the state legislature earlier in February.

In the wake of the new Wyoming laws, NGV advocates in the state said most fueling equipment for CNG dispensing costs $750,000 to $1.2 million, so a straight cap at $1 million without a percentage requirement would have been preferred. CNG vehicle advocates said they would have liked more expansive legislation, but “momentum” continues to build for NGVs, according to reports.

The head of the Wyoming Petroleum Marketing Association told reporters that a watered-down bill most likely would mean that possible station operators may have to team up with a gas industry partner. Officials with Encana Corp., which has a big leasehold in Wyoming natural gas reserves, indicated that they would be willing to partner in fueling ventures; the producer already is advancing NGV use in North America and uses NGVs in some of its onshore operations.

With the first 70 fueling stations in place for NGVs, the national “natural gas highway” is set to surpass last year’s growth in 2013, according to Clean Energy Fuels Corp., which said last week its core business of building fueling facilities shot up 87% last year from 2011.

The company said it built 127 CNG or liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueling stations in 2012, nearly doubling its output from a year earlier. It recently signed three more agreements with truck stop operators. Twenty-two new fueling stations are part of a national highway network covering 17 states from California to Ohio.

Soaring pump prices for diesel ($4.14/gallon) and gasoline ($3.74/gallon) added to Clean Energy’s bullishness. “Both fuels are significantly more expensive than natural gas at the pump, up to $1.50/gallon more, depending on local market conditions,” the company said.

“This year is already shaping up to surpass 2012 in the drive toward natural gas,” said CEO Andrew Littlefair, noting that the “chicken-egg” issue about vehicles and fueling stations has been “taken off the table.” The company is seeing “significant interest and movement” by the long-haul trucking industry to switch to natural gas (mostly LNG) amid “historic high levels” for diesel and gasoline prices.

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