M.U.D. is showing the way -- Natural gas opportunity
Metropolitan Utilities District leaders are taking important steps to move closer to the day when cars and trucks fueled by natural gas -- a cleaner, cheaper alternative to gasoline -- will become a familiar sight on metro Omaha streets.
President Barack Obama has tried to focus the nation's attention on energy diversification and increased use of alternative fuels.
Tax credits on clean-energy vehicles are widely available. Indeed, at least $300 million in stimulus money is aimed at promoting them. And a substantial chunk is likely to go toward converting or upgrading business fleets to non-petroleum fuels.
Doug Clark, in charge of developing natural gas as a vehicle fuel for M.U.D., said Omaha has the opportunity to grab a portion of that stimulus money, which is supposed to be used quickly to boost the economy. M.U.D.'s planning for fleet conversions and one or more public-access fueling stations is so far advanced that it could, indeed, get projects going fast.
The stimulus effect could extend beyond just the obvious jobs generated by construction of vehicles and fueling stations. M.U.D. And Black Hills Energy (which supplies natural gas to some Omahans) as well as Lincoln Composites (which manufactures tanks for CNG vehicles) would certainly benefit. Public utility ratepayers would benefit, too.
The three organizations sponsored a regional workshop last week. The event was designed to encourage the multi-business coalitions that will make the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) for fleet vehicles a reality.
Natural-gas power can be particularly beneficial for companies such as Omaha's Happy Cab, which put its first CNG cab on the street last week.
Converting a car or truck to use the fuel can cost several thousand dollars, the price of a new CNG vehicle is higher than one with a gasoline engine. The initial investment, particularly for refuse trucks and similar large vehicles, can be substantial.
But so can fuel savings. Clark said that this month, the amount of natural gas it takes to match one gallon of gasoline costs 99 cents. Comparatively, gasoline is running close to $2 a gallon in the Omaha area. A federal rebate could cut the cost of CNG to 49 cents a gallon.
CNG engines emit 25 percent less pollution than those that are gasoline-powered. And the United States has a tremendous amount of underground natural gas that would last up to 150 years, more if supplies in Canada and Mexico are included in the calculations.
There are no magic solutions, of course. Natural gas has some potential drawbacks. Extracting it from the ground can be problematic due to environmental concerns. The amount of gas available, while substantial, is limited. It may not be considered a renewable fuel, though it is generated by landfills, livestock manure and such. And processes do exist to get
Still, the stars are aligned right now for the establishment of natural-gas vehicles. Stimulus money is available for those who act quickly. Tax credits are waiting to be claimed. Natural-gas supply is stable.
Alternative fuels are front and center in America's consciousness. Gasoline prices, while relatively low, are sure to rise. Reducing dependence on foreign oil is increasingly important.
And M.U.D., Black Hills Energy and other Omaha companies have the expertise to aid companies (or individuals) that want to convert to CNG vehicles.
CNG is already taking its place among alternative fuels in cities around the country. The opportunity is there for Omahans to seize.
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