Construction is underway for a second compressed natural gas station in Glenwood Springs. When finished, the CNG filling stop will be the first in Glenwood that's open to the public. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher examines the economics behind natural gas cars and trucks, and who might use such a station.
The newest fueling stop is in the very early stages. A maze of small pipes are still sticking out of the ground, next to backhoes digging a connector line under a nearby road. It’s next to an existing gasoline station at the West Glenwood exit. This new location is being built by the company Trillium CNG. It’s part of WEC Energy Group, which already runs a natural gas station in Glenwood for public transportation busses.
"Garfield County and the U.S. Forest Service both have several bi-fuel, CNG-gasoline pickup trucks. So we expect them to be fueling at the station,” says Heather McGregor, of Carbondale-based Clean Energy Economy for the Region, or CLEER. Bi-fuel trucks have two tanks, one for gasoline and one for compressed natural gas. "Moreover,” continues McGregor, “having the station open up will just open up the market for numerous private sector fleets to actually act on their desire to have more of their trucks and vans be powered by CNG."
In an announcement about the new location, shipping company Western Tank Lines said it was planning to refuel there. McGregor says it’s not entirely clear what the demand is locally for CNG, but she’s been advising people in the Roaring Fork Valley about what kind of car or truck could be a good fit. “They’re mainly HVAC contractors, lighting contractors, folks that are driving up and down the valley… in work trucks and work vans. And since they’re based at kind of a home base… CNG is a perfect alternative for them. And it’s going to help them save money."
Glenwood’s new station, and McGregor’s coaching, are part of a multimillion-dollar statewide effort. Wes Maurer is Transportation Program Manager for the Colorado Energy Office, and says there’s several reasons why Colorado has a keen eye on compressed natural gas. One is lower emissions, which can mean cutting ozone precursors by 60% to 90%. Then there’s Colorado’s sizable natural gas production, even with the recent slowdown. "Colorado is a net exporter of natural gas. We produce about 3x as what we consume. On the other hand,” Maurer continues, “the US imports about 40% of its petroleum from gasoline and diesel from other countries. So using compressed natural gas as fuel in vehicles helps to keep money in the colorado economy, local economy, growing industry, so that’s certainly a benefit that we see from the state’s perspective as well.”
Over the last five years, the natural gas equivalent of a gallon of gas has been, on average, a little over two dollars. Maurer and McGregor say that’s to be expected in the coming years, too. “We know oil prices are volatile,” says Maurer. “And that’s really what causes gas and diesel to fluctuate at the pump. So the reality is that the commodity cost of gas and diesel as it relates to the oil market is really 60% or above, whereas natural gas hovers around 20% of that commodity cost.” In simpler terms, U.S. natural gas is reliably cheaper because it’s so much more dependable.
Heather McGregor also describes the supply as safe, pointing to this factor: “Transportation is a tiny, tiny increment of the total consumption market for natural gas. So even if we were to say double, triple, quadruple the amount of CNG purchased in area,” she explains, “or used for transportation, it would still be just a tiny increment compared to what we depend for heating our homes and our buildings."
So Colorado has funneled about $15 million of federal money into helping local governments, businesses, and residents buy natural gas vehicles. The money comes from federal highway funds, and there are grants from the Department of Local Affairs, which come from energy impact fees. The state has another $15 million, again federal money, going towards jump-starting up to thirty natural gas stations in the next few years.
On average, fueling stations cost $1 - $1.5 million. The state funneled nearly a half a million to the new Glenwood Springs station. Garfield County Commissioners contributed $90,000, and the City of Glenwood Springs $10,000. The station is expected to be open to the public this fall. A new Rifle CNG station is also on the calendar, and could open next summer.