Business

Natural Gas has a Long Row to Hoe as Public Station Opens in Florida

By: Jim Turner | Posted: September 25, 2012 6:00 PM

State and county officials proudly marked the opening Tuesday of a private natural gas fueling station that will be used to reduce fuel costs by the Leon County School District.

Nopetro Leon County Schools

Leon County School District Superintendent Jackie Pons points to the fuel savings of natural compressed gas for the fleets buses to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Sen. Bill Montford.

They highlighted the use of the alternative fuel to help reduce the nation’s dependence upon foreign fuels and plans by Nopetro to open its state-of-the-art compressed natural gas facilities in 18 other markets in Florida and Georgia in the next 36 months.

The fuel was called the future for Florida and the country seeking energy independence, by state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Apalachicola.

“It’s the right thing to do for Florida and for our children,” Montford said.

But even as major auto dealers begin offering natural gas vehicles, don’t expect there to be any rush to expand such fueling stations for the general public, even under similar private-public partnerships as between Nopetro and the Leon County School District.

The target for Nopetro, which has offices in Tallahassee and Miami, is localized private fleets even as their co-founder and CEO Jorge Herrera spoke of grand plans for the fuel.

One reason that there is little rush to put natural gas vehicles on the street is the lack of an infrastructure. More importantly, there is little incentive for governments to push for more natural gas vehicles since alternative fuels don’t feed transportation tax revenues.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who advocates for the use of natural gas, said legislators will have to eventually address the issue.

“Under current law, the traditional mechanisms for funding roads and bridges and improvements are not captured in alternative fuels,” Putnam said.

That is something that one shouldn’t expect to see happen quickly given the current disdain among elected leaders to raise or impose new taxes.

Still, Putnam called the station in western Tallahassee a “model for other school districts, local governments and municipalities to emulate.”

Putnam said the nation needs to consider natural gas for long-term fuel plans.

“Only one-tenth of 1 percent of the vehicles in America are fueled by natural gas right now; this is the biggest growth opportunity for lessening our dependence upon foreign oil for our vehicles,” Putnam said.

The difference in the new Nopetro station from other natural gas facilities is that it is open to the public.

Leon County has already purchased 44 buses -- the start of converting the fleet of 206 vehicles that have been run strictly on diesel -- that will provide Nopetro a guaranteed customer for fuel that costs vehicles equipped for natural gas at about $1 a gallon.

School District Superintendent Jackie Pons estimated the district will annually save $6,000 to $7,000 on fuel costs for each natural gas bus.

“Our children now understand this fuel is cleaner, it’s safer, it’s American made,” Pons said.



Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.



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