CHP is not always going to be cost-effective, Roberto said, but it is technically possible. It could benefit not only the immediate user but also create self-sustaining "islands of power'' when an emergency situation that affects the larger electrical grid.
The West Virginia University College of Law hosted the forum to discuss challenges facing the natural gas industry and policies that could stimulate demand and stabilize domestic prices.
Organizers say the industry has been too successful for its own good, with technological advances creating an oversupply and forcing gas prices so low they jeopardize both future development and tax revenues.
Kathryn Clay, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Drive Natural Gas Initiative, said vehicles powered by liquid and compressed natural gas are another huge but largely untapped market.
Individuals, companies and governments could all save money by converting vehicles, she said, but gas-producing states can't capitalize on the opportunity without a strong network of pipelines and fueling stations.
The U.S. is the world's largest gas producer, she said, but accounts for only 1 percent of natural gas vehicles.
There are just 1,200 natural gas fueling stations nationwide, compared with 160,000 gasoline stations. But the growth rate of fueling stations is accelerating, Clay said.
Today, technology, supplies and environmental attitudes promise more success than supporters of natural gas vehicles found in the 1980s and 1990s.
Back then, the U.S. was on the verge of becoming an importer of natural gas, Clay said. Now, without lucrative domestic markets, gas producers could find themselves on the brink of becoming exporters.
Earlier this year, IGS Energy of Dublin, Ohio, said it will build a $10 million network of compressed natural gas stations for vehicles along Interstate 79 from Charleston to Mount Morris, Pa. IGS said it anticipates more stations across West Virginia, and it's considering a similar network in Ohio.
Last fall, a task force appointed by West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said low prices support a shift toward CNG vehicles, and urged the state to examine ways to expand the network of fueling stations.
Tomblin said earlier this year state government should convert at least one-fourth of its 7,800-vehicle fleet within four years.