Two industry-backed bills aimed at boosting the use of compressed natural gas to fuel Wyoming vehicles cleared the state Legislature this week, but neither will do as much as they would have as first written.
The original bills — one to provide loans for construction of compressed natural gas pump stations, the other creating a plan to slowly replace state vehicles with natural gas-burning units — could have kickstarted a growing Wyoming fuel industry, according to compressed natural gas promoters.
But lawmakers stripped Senate File 23 and Senate File 52 of some of their power over the past month and a half, presenting what one lobbyist called “watered-down” versions to Gov. Matt Mead for signing into law.
The result is a pair of new measures that aren’t exactly what industry advocates asked for, but still represent a move toward compressed natural gas, referred to as CNG.
“I don’t think we’ve solved the problem yet,” said Mark Larson, executive director of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association. “But we certainly think this is a step in the right direction.”
Larson and natural gas producers said both bills still contribute to what they hope will become an emerging CNG market. Producers of the fuel tout CNG as a cleaner and cheaper alternative to gasoline. The fuel sold for about $2.09 per gallon equivalent late this week, while a gallon of regular gasoline cost an additional dollar.
But in Wyoming — third in the country in natural gas production — the alternative fuel has struggled to catch on, thanks to lack of CNG pumps and CNG-fueled vehicles.
Senate File 23 now allows for businesses to apply for loans to pay either $1 million or 75 percent of the cost to install CNG pumps, whichever is less. The original bill would have provided loans of up to $1 million to cover such projects and also included language helping borrowers avoid paying interest for two years after the loan.
Larson said the newest iteration isn’t as favorable to fuel retailers as the original. Most pump stations cost somewhere between $750,000 and $1.2 million to retrofit for CNG, a cost that most gas station
owners can’t cover alone.
“I think that if you crunch the numbers the way the bill is now, it’s going to require a partnership with the CNG [production] community,” he said.
Matthew Most is a vice president for Encana, an active Wyoming natural gas producer and ardent promoter of compressed natural gas vehicles. He said his company remains open to participating in such partnerships.
“We’re always happy to work with folks who want to develop these things,” he said. “We want to sell more natural gas.”
The company operates a model station in Riverton and hopes to see more stations take root in Wyoming.
Representatives from the CNG division of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy, another natural gas producer and promoter of CNG vehicles, didn’t provide comment on Friday.
The other bill, Senate File 52, mandates that state agencies, the University of Wyoming and community colleges buy CNG-burning vehicles for at least half of all fleet vehicle replacements.
The amended bill that passed both the House and Senate, which Larson called “watered-down,” gives agencies and districts more ability to opt out of the bill than before, including clauses that pardon agencies that deem purchasing the vehicles to be “unfeasible or economically unpractical.”
Agencies and schools can also opt out if there isn’t sufficient existing or planned CNG infrastructure nearby or if the vehicle to be purchased isn’t available in a CNG-burning option.
But despite the revision, some industry representatives remain optimistic. Most said he takes the news out of the Cowboy State as a win.
“Momentum has been building and building,” he said. “It seems like we have good news on that front every week, and this is just the latest.”
Larson admitted that neither measure is quite what he had hoped for, but said both will help. He said he will continue to pursue further legislation in future sessions.
“We’re not done yet,” he said. “It’s a start.”