CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Interstate 79 corridor will be dotted with four compressed natural gas filling stations by 2014, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced during a news conference Thursday.
The announcement took place near the Spring Street Foodland, the site of the planned Charleston station.
IGS Energy-CNG Services will build the four stations. The other three sites are near Jane Lew, Bridgeport and just across the Pennsylvania state line at Mount Morris.
State Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said that although IGS is an Ohio company, it chose to build the stations in West Virginia because state lawmakers were ready with legislation to make natural gas feasible.
T.J. Meadows, West Virginia business manager for IGS Energy-CNG Services, and a West Virginia native, said the stations in Charleston and Bridgeport should be open and operating by fall.
Meadows said using compressed natural gas as a vehicle fuel creates 30 percent less carbon dioxide than gasoline or diesel fuel, makes 75 percent less carbon monoxide and produces 95 percent less particulate matter. At the same time, natural gas is 30 percent to 50 percent cheaper than gasoline and diesel, with an average cost of about $2.10 for the equivalent of a gallon.
But officials expect that cost to drop even further as the vast Marcellus Shale gas deposit is tapped.
"With our abundance of natural gas resources, we have the opportunity to put thousands of people to work," Tomblin said. He also said tapping the state's gas reserves will provide "affordable" and "reliable" energy sources for the next 100 years.
Tomblin and McCabe said state lawmakers passed tax incentives to help cover the costs for business owners and state residents to convert vehicles to natural gas and invest in natural gas infrastructure. The Legislature is expected to consider a bill soon creating tax credits for government, as well. The $10,000 to $15,000 cost of converting cars and trucks to natural gas has been a stumbling block for some government agencies.
Federal and state governments made a push for natural gas-powered vehicles in the 1990s, but the idea petered out when gasoline prices dropped to a point where there was no longer a big advantage in switching to natural gas. But local officials say technology has improved since then, and natural gas prices should continue to stay low.
"It's a shame it didn't work then," said Charleston Mayor Danny Jones. "Hopefully, it will work this time." He said city officials are in talks now about converting some vehicles to natural gas.
"[Natural gas] is almost half as cheap, but more importantly, it's ours," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. "It's our jobs, and it's our gas."
County officials already own one vehicle that will run on either gasoline or natural gas, and the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority has agreed to buy eight natural gas-powered buses.
Meadows said all four compressed natural gas filling stations to be built under the $10 million IGS Energy proposal should be up and running by the beginning of 2014. The stations would allow someone to fill up with natural gas in Charleston and have refueling options all the way to Pittsburgh.
Officials for three companies -- EQT Corp., Antero Resources and Chesapeake Energy -- have all agreed to convert sizable parts of their vehicle fleets to natural gas and to use the newly built filling stations. Phil Pfister, spokesman for Chesapeake Energy, said the company has already converted 2,000 of its 5,000 vehicles to the alternate fuel source.
"We want to have all 5,000 of them on natural gas," he said.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.