Questar adds 2 natural gas fuel stations
Charles F. Trentelman
OGDEN -- Questar Gas thinks it has reached a tipping point in its efforts to increase public use of natural gas vehicles.
Craig Wagstaff, the company's senior vice president, said Wednesday that more vehicles are coming on the market and more places to fuel them are being built. Questar is even responding to customer demand to open a new public natural gas fueling station in Kaysville because people with natural gas cars in central Davis County were having to drive too far.
Another station is being opened at Weber State University, and Wagstaff said Ogden plans to make its fueling station available to the public in the future after its holding tank is enlarged.
Wagstaff visited the Standard-Examiner's editorial board to update the paper on where the company is as winter arrives.
Partially because of controlled costs on gas it drills, by the Utah Public Service Commission, Questar's rates are the lowest in the nation, and that is reflected in the $1.25 per gallon it charges for liquefied natural gas for cars. He said rates should stay stable unless there are supply disruptions or a severe winter.
The problem with natural-gas-fueled cars, Wagstaff said, has always been the classic "chicken and egg" quandary: Nobody will buy cars that use natural gas if they can't fill them up with gas. On the other hand, Questar won't build natural gas fueling stations unless there are customers to use them.
That is changing, he said, albeit slowly.
Ogden has been proactive by using natural gas in its 10 garbage trucks and two downtown trolleys. Also, several police cars and city fleet vehicles are gas-powered. This makes Ogden a national leader, he said, and the city has its own fueling station.
The big change for consumers came when natural gas company representatives started meeting with automakers to develop consumer vehicles. Honda is first out, next year, with a new natural-gas-powered car. General Motors and Chrysler are producing trucks, he said, and Ford also is developing vehicles.
With the two new ones, Wagstaff said Questar will have 29 public stations around Utah, and neighboring states' gas companies also have them.
"You can literally drive from Logan to Los Angeles in a natural gas vehicle," he said, "so the infrastructure is certainly starting to play out."
Wagstaff said there are still problems. Natural gas vehicles cost more, and the federal government has ended a $4,000 credit for buyers. Utah still has a $2,500 credit, so the new Hondas should sell for about what a gasoline-powered vehicle costs.
Combine that with the 35 miles per gallon the Honda should get and the $1.25 per gallon cost, and the cars should be more desirable.
He said Questar also is working with developers to produce a refueling unit that owners could install at home to generate their own liquefied natural gas.
So far only one has been developed, at a cost of about $8,000, "but what we're seeing is companies doing research and development on a home refueling unit, and our hope is they get that down to a few thousand dollars" or possibly even something that could be leased.
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