"One of the things we saw in the marketplace, one of the hurdles to wider adoption of natural gas, was the lack of infrastructure in place," said Tom Massaro, vice president of marketing and business intelligence at New Jersey Natural Gas.
Massaro said there are only five publicly accessible CNG fueling stations in the state, plus a couple dozen more in private use.
But that's about to change. In June, New Jersey Natural Gas won approval from the Board of Public Utilities to build between five and seven public CNG fueling stations in Monmouth, Morris and Ocean counties at a total cost of up to $10 million. The stations will be hosted by commercial fleet owners or local governments, but will be installed, owned and maintained by the utility. Hosts must promise to use at least 20 percent of the station's capacity.
Massaro said each station will cost between $500,000 and $1.5 million, depending on how much site work is needed and what type of compression system is used. So far, he said, the response from prospective hosts has been good.
"It's been strong since we initially issued the press release about a year ago that we were petitioning the BPU for this," he said.
New Jersey Natural Gas isn't alone in seeing an opportunity to fill the filling station gap. In March, South Jersey Gas opened its first public CNG fueling station, in Glassboro. A second, to be located in Millville, is in the design phase.
The company plans another five to seven stations in the next 10 years, according to Todd Gordon, manager of commercial and industrial energy efficiency consulting at South Jersey Gas.
South Jersey Gas' customers include the Borough of Glassboro and Gloucester County. Rowan University also has plans to integrate natural gas into its shuttle fleet, at which point they'll use the station as well, Gordon said.
Gordon said the station serves fleet owners for whom building their own stations wouldn't make economic sense.
"Most people are moving into CNG vehicles a couple of vehicles at a time," he said. "The economics wouldn't work for a private user that had only a handful of vehicles."
For its part, South Jersey Gas plans to have 29 of its 170 vehicles running on natural gas by year's end. Gordon said they've decided to phase in new vehicles, rather than convert existing vehicles.
Another South Jersey company, Waste Management of New Jersey, also is making a major investment in CNG. The company has 68 CNG trucks based out of its Camden hauling center and eight based in Toms River. That's out of a total New Jersey fleet of 1,266, according to company spokesman George McGrath.
The company has a private CNG fueling facility, with 88 truck bays that get re-fueled overnight using so called slow-fill pumps. In addition, the company opened a public fueling station in Camden last year. Like the utility-owned stations, the public fueling station uses new fast-fill technology, which allows a vehicle to be filled in about the same amount of time as a typical diesel fill-up.
NJ Transit also uses a private filling station, in Howell, according to spokesman John Durso Jr. Last month, the company was awarded a $76 million federal transportation grant, much of which will go to replace 84 diesel buses with natural gas-fueled buses. That will bring the company's natural gas fleet to 170 buses within two years. NJ Transit currently operates 2,180 buses, Durso said.
He said it's not yet clear whether they'll increase their CNG fleet beyond that.
"Regarding the long term, it is too early to speculate, and there are a number of factors that need to be monitored, including the cost related to the purchase of such vehicles," he said.
Even with wider availability of fueling stations, Massaro said there's still something of an education hurdle to overcome. Both New Jersey Natural Gas and South Jersey Gas said they spend significant amounts of time meeting with clients considering switching to natural gas vehicles, and offering tips about how to make it happen.
Massaro said New Jersey Natural Gas plans to select the sites for its pilot program by June. Once those sites are chosen, the company will begin marketing the stations to fleet owners in the area, in hopes they'll use the new resource. If those conversations are anything like the conversations he's already having, Massaro said, the chances for success are good.
"I think a lot of companies have been looking at this," he said. "Cost of infrastructure has been one of the hurdles they haven't been able to overcome, and they see this as a solution for that."
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