Pa. House bills back natural gas as automotive fuel of the future
By Christina Kauffman
Local legislators are among those pushing a series of bills to increase consumption of the state’s abundant supply of natural gas, with York representatives authoring components of the Marcellus Works package.
The bills passed out of their committees last week, furthering the House Republican initiative to increase conversion to natural gas as the fuel is being drilled from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation.
The package creates incentives for mass transit systems and businesses to convert their fleets to compressed natural gas, which proponents laud as a cleaner-burning, less expensive alternative to diesel fuel.
Among the local efforts that could benefit is Rabbit Transit’s proposal to convert its fleet and open the county’s first compressed natural gas fueling station.
Getting started: State Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, chairs the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee; five pieces of the package passed out of the committee last week.
He compared the dearth of CNG fueling stations to the advent of diesel as an automotive fuel decades ago.
“You’ve got to get it started somewhere,” he said. “It’s like with diesel cars in the ’60s; there were no fueling stations. But now they’re everywhere.”
Miller said drilling in the shale has been a “major game changer” for the future energy needs of the state, and there could be a day when CNG is as popular as diesel.
The bills that passed committee last week would:
—Establish a grant program to help small mass transit bus fleets convert to compressed natural gas.
—Create a loan program to help large mass transit bus fleets make the switch.
—Promote grants for taxi companies, school districts and individuals to purchase natural gas vehicles.
—Exempt vehicles capable of running on gasoline or natural gas from the Pennsylvania Clean Vehicles Program by requiring one emissions test per vehicle instead of the two required under current law.
—Create tax credits for private fleet vehicles to lessen the cost of switching to natural gas vehicles.
—Create a natural gas corridor tax credit to encourage the construction of natural gas fueling stations along travel corridors such as I-76, I-78, I-79, I-80, I-81 and I-83.
—Establish a three-year tax credit program to provide incentives for Pennsylvania businesses to purchase heavy-duty natural gas vehicles.
Majority Whip Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, and Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, authored some of the legislation.
“It’s critical that we create demand here in Pennsylvania for Pennsylvania natural gas,” Grove said. “It’s cleaner, less expensive and better for the environment.”
Grove said some companies have already made the conversion, such as York Waste owner Republic Services, which last year announced plans to replace 65 of its 100 diesel-powered garbage trucks in York with natural gas vehicles.
But more businesses will step in line if the incentives in the package become law, Grove said.
The bills are awaiting votes before the full House and must be approved by the Senate and the governor before becoming law. Grove said the bills could come up for vote as early as this week.
Local pumps: Rabbit Transit executive director Richard Farr said the financial provisions in the Works package could help with the funding to convert some of Rabbit’s 87-bus fleet, but the bigger problem is finding funding for construction of natural-gas friendly facilities outside the corridors listed in the package.
Rabbit is waiting for funding to move from its current facility on Roosevelt Avenue to a new building on Zarfoss Road in West Manchester Township, Farr said, and the conversion can’t be made until after the move.
But constructing facilities for gas-operated vehicles is more expensive. Maintenance garages must be spark-free to avoid an explosion.
The fueling station, also more expensive than its diesel counterpart, would be built at the new building, hopefully through a public-private partnership with a business, he said.