When first approached by Chesapeake Energy officials in 2010 about getting into the compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling business, Randy Williams wasn’t sold.
Williams, president of Dandy Mini Marts Inc., said he was uncertain at first when Chesapeake’s director of market development, Norman Herrera, first brought up the idea.
But after traveling to Chesapeake’s Oklahoma headquarters, where he saw facilities firsthand and learned more about the alternative fueling option, “we realized we needed to get involved,” Williams said. “Before the plane touched the ground in Elmira, N.Y., we were committed to this project.”
Williams, Dandy officials, local dignitaries and others gathered on May 2 to celebrate the opening of Dandy’s second CNG fueling station, located at Pine and Elmira streets in Athens Township. After officials cut the ribbon, tours of the facility were given and fueling demonstrations offered.
Dandy and Chesapeake partnered with the Endless Mountains Transportation Authority (EMTA) to help fund the Athens station through the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant (AFIG) program. The AFIG grant provided $600,000 to purchase equipment for the station and $150,000 for the purchase of a CNG-powered vehicle for EMTA’s fleet.
Ground broke on the Athens station in December 2012, just after the first Dandy CNG station opened in North Towanda Township. Beavers Petroleum and Alternative Fuels of Horseheads, N.Y. installed the equipment at both stations.
The market for CNG isn’t yet strong, but Williams expressed excitement on May 2 at being ahead of the curve in the alternative fueling market. A third CNG facility is slated to open in Elmira in late 2013 or early 2014, and a fourth is planned for Mansfield, Pa., Williams said.
The growth of CNG will likely be encouraged by the increased affordability of CNG-powered vehicles and conversions of existing vehicles, Williams said. Local, state and federal lawmakers can also help push the growth of the market, Williams said, a sentiment echoed by several speakers at the event.
Alisa Harris, special executive secretary for external affairs of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the state plans to continue providing millions of dollars in funding for CNG projects.
Anticipated funds available for CNG development and incentives include $17 million in Act 13 funding and $10 million through the AFIG program, Harris said.
The DEP seeks to promote CNG’s benefits, including reduced emissions and cost-effectiveness, Harris said. “This station is truly a model,” she said. “We have a wonderful resource in Pennsylvania.”
State and federal lawmakers in attendance said they plan to advocate for increased CNG usage. Natural gas will boost the nation’s energy independence and will lead the creation of a new energy policy, said U.S. Rep. Tom Marino.
State Rep. Tina Pickett discussed her House Bill 1088, which would create a Keystone Fuel Incentive Fund to incentivize CNG vehicle purchases, particularly for school districts, municipalities and other public uses.
Her bill and other bills will “keep the market moving,” Pickett said.
The purchase of CNG-powered vehicles, as well as the conversion of existing vehicles to run on CNG, has already started in the county. EMTA’s CNG fixed route bus will soon be traveling the county’s roads. Meanwhile, the authority, which recently rebranded itself as BeST Transit, plans to convert its fleet over a 10-year period, said Kevin Kilpatrick, who spearheaded the authority’s portion of the project.
The CNG station “is a win-win-win project for all three agencies,” Kilpatrick said.
Barb Sexton, director of government affairs for Chesapeake Energy, said Chesapeake plans to convert 50 of its light-duty vehicles in the area to CNG. The vehicles, many of which have already converted, will fuel at the Athens facility.
Chesapeake plans to convert its fleet nationwide as more fueling stations become available, Sexton said. In addition to its air quality benefits, the move will lead to reduced operating costs, she said.
The Bradford County sheriff’s office has ordered a CNG-powered Chevrolet Tahoe for its use, and county commissioners plan to follow suit, said commissioner Doug McLinko. The vehicles will promote Bradford County’s source of fuel to its visitors, he said.
County commissioner Mark Smith said he is frequently asked about Bradford County’s CNG stations when he travels the state. The station is an example of how private and public partnership can benefit an entire community, said Smith, also a member of EMTA’s board of directors.
“To be able to talk about this project that is pushing Pennsylvania forward is truly an honor,” he said.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.