CASPER, Wyo. — A state legislative committee pledged support for two bills Tuesday which, if passed, could go a long way toward making Wyoming a leader in alternative fuels.
Meeting in Casper, the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee first passed a measure that would slowly transition up to half of the state's vehicle fleet to run on compressed natural gas by 2017. The second measure amends a state loan program to include compressed natural gas-related incentives.
Outgoing legislators Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper, and Rep. Jim Roscoe, D-Wilson, presented a bill drafted by their subcommittee to the main group Tuesday. The committee voted to sponsor amended versions of each bill, meaning Jennings or Roscoe won’t have to drive the bill forward.
Members of the committee said they hope the two measures will help create a stronger market for the cleaner and cheaper fuel, which could save the state and private parties money. The fuel sold for an average price of $2.15 per gallon equivalent Monday.
“I think these two bills are an attempt to get beyond the chicken and egg problem we have with natural gas as a transportation fuel,” Roscoe said.
The first of the two bills requires that state departments and school districts buy CNG-fueled models — either the CNG-fueled or the bifuel option -- at least half the time when replacing vehicle fleets, so long as the municipality where the vehicle is stationed has a CNG fuel pump active or expected to be active within six months.
Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, expressed concern with the six-month time frame, saying that construction projects often fall behind schedule.
Jennings said in response that the bill’s allowance of bifuel vehicles — which allow the driver to choose between CNG and gasoline —would remedy the problem.
“As the market develops, you could say CNG only,” Jennings said.
The original bill would have required affected state departments to exclusively buy CNG-fueled vehicles. Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, and others said they would prefer phasing in the vehicle shift slowly rather than requiring a such a quick change.
“I’m thinking we ought to phase this in,” Bebout said. “Let’s walk before we run.”
Greear proposed adding a 50-percent amendment, and the measure passed.
The committee also added a sunset provision, meaning the bill will be terminated unless renewed by July 2017.
The legislative committee voted later in the day to support a second bill which could also help the CNG industry take hold in Wyoming.
The group will sponsor a bill which amends a state challenge loan program to allow borrowers two payment-free years in projects to build CNG pumps around the state.
Ben Avery, business and industry division director of the Wyoming Business Council, said the loan program has a sterling track record.
“Our collective losses over the last 12 years are less than interest gained from any one given year,” he told the committee. “We’re going to make sure that any applicant is able to repay any debt for installation of natural gas fueling stations.”
Fueling stations will be able to borrow up to $1 million to construct the new fueling stations.
The fuel has yet to take off in Wyoming. There are only four public stations in the state, with three more planned. The Wyoming Natural Gas Vehicle Infrastructure Coalition, an industry-and nonprofit-led group, wants to set up 12 more Wyoming stations.
The committee first formed the CNG subgroup at an August meeting after an industry presentation touting CNG as a cheaper, cleaner alternative to gasoline.
The Legislature has appropriated funds for CNG vehicle development before. In 2011, the state gave $200,000 for state fleet conversions. Shawn Reese, policy director for Gov. Matt Mead, said Tuesday that the conversions are almost complete. The legislation has also showed support for conversions and a filling station at the University of Wyoming.
Mead has declared support for the fuel, signing a memorandum of understanding in November asking automakers to manufacture affordable CNG vehicles. Last week dealers around the state committed to selling CNG trucks and vans — which can run either solely on the alternative source or a combination of CNG and gasoline — to the state for fixed prices.
But whether the new bill will pass is in question. A measure introduced by Roscoe last winter subsidizing the creation of CNG pumps failed.
Jennings said Tuesday it’s important for the state to adopt and to use the new technology.
“Somebody’s got to build these filling stations,” he said. “Until we start to build these things and use them, a lot of this technology won’t be used.”