If compressed natural gas is going to become a viable, competitive option for powering vehicles, more states must get involved in the effort to increase the market for the alternative fuel.

Wyoming has already made some progress on this front. Last year, the Legislature approved a $200,000 pilot project to retrofit existing vehicles to burn compressed natural gas. Meanwhile, some lawmakers have also expressed interest in funding further conversions and a CNG filling station at the University of Wyoming.

In July, Wyoming joined 21 other states in requesting bids from car dealers for CNG-powered vehicles. The process helped state governments determine how much they can expect to pay for the vehicles, so they can work them into their respective budgets.

Wyoming chose to work with three dealerships in the state: Fremont Motor Company and Fremont Chevrolet-GMC, both in Lander, and Spradley Barr in Cheyenne. The state has not committed to actually making any purchases, but the Legislature is now armed with the knowledge to make an informed decision if it decides to add more CNG vehicles to its fleet.

The state accepted bids on nine models, three from each dealer. The cost of the vehicles range from about $30,000 and nearly $38,000, depending on cab size and other specifications.

Models the state could decide to purchase include the Ford E350 van, the Ford F350 ruck, the Chevrolet Silverado and the Chevrolet Express cargo van. While some of the vehicles could run solely on natural gas, others would feature a bi-fuel option that allows motorists to choose either gasoline or CNG as their fuel of choice.

Gov. Matt Mead said he is considering adding CNG-powered vehicles to his proposed budget as part of his state energy plan, which would be a smart move. While there is little difference in the mileage per gallon for CNG- and gas-powered vehicles, CNG is now selling for only $2.14 for the equivalent of a gallon. At times it has sold for less than a dollar.

“This initiative makes a lot of sense for Wyoming,” the governor noted. “It allows us to get a sense of where the market stands for natural gas vehicles, because this has to be a market-based effort.”

With natural gas so plentiful in Wyoming, promoting efforts to improve the market for CNG is obviously in the state’s best interests. It’s also a much more environmental-friendly fuel than gasoline.

Unfortunately, the market is small in Wyoming right now, with only four public stations in the state and four private. Three more public stations are planned, and the Wyoming Natural Gas Vehicle Infrastructure Coalition wants to set up 12 more stations in Wyoming.

The Legislature is appropriately trying to do what it can to speed up the effort. A bill has been drafted by a subcommittee of the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee that would provide incentives for companies to add CNG filling stations and fuel conversions for governmental entities throughout the state.

We join Mead in hoping that the multi-state effort in support of using more CNG vehicles will provide an incentive for the private market to build up the natural gas infrastructure. Once more filling stations are open throughout the country, and more states commit to using CNG vehicles, the public should become much more interested in using the alternative fuel.

Earlier this year, the Legislature rejected a measure that would have subsidized building more CNG stations. The bill had the potential to give the industry a much-needed boost in the state, and should be fine-tuned and brought back next year.

New Jersey recently announced it will spend $10 million to helped construct seven new CNG fueling stations in the Garden State. Wyoming should emulate what’s happening in Chris Christie country.

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