Oregon regulators moved this week to make it easier for truck fleet owners to convert from gasoline or diesel to natural gas.
Portland-based Northwest Natural became the first utility in the region to get clearance to build compressed natural gas filling stations. Puget Sound Energy wants to go second.
Natural gas is drawing attention as a vehicle fuel because it is way cheaper than gasoline and diesel and pollutes less. But compressed natural gas filling stations are few and far between. NW Natural business development director Barbara Summers says her company needed utility commission approval to install and maintain CNG refueling stations, just for trucks for now.
"Our customers were calling saying, 'We've heard about this. We understand that it may benefit us. There's no infrastructure. What are the options that we might consider?'" said Summers.
NW Natural was held at bay for several months by complaints of unfair competition raised by other vendors. But Oregon's Public Utility Commission found the gas monopoly could fill a gap not now being served by competitors.
NW Natural plans to begin taking orders from business customers for natural gas filling stations next month. In regulatory filings, NW Natural and Puget Sound Energy promised to run their vehicle fueling programs as discrete, self-sustaining operations. State regulators don't want to see one class of ratepayers subsidizing another.
Washington's utilities commission has not set a date for when it will consider Puget Sound Energy's request to offer natural gas refueling.
NW Natural's Summers estimated the cost of installing a natural gas fueling station that is robust enough to serve a large fleet at around $1 million. "Customers are billed for the service on a monthly basis and not up front for the equipment cost," she said.