Pressing the boundaries
CHARLRESTON, W.Va. -- Recently, Chris Wirts had to park his new car because he couldn't find fuel to power it for about a week.
"I was a bit ahead of the game," Wirts said of his Honda Civic, which runs off compressed natural gas.
This week, though, he filled his eight-gallon-equivalent tank up for $13 down the road from where he works. IGS Energy opened its second compressed natural gas fueling station in the Mountain State in Charleston next to Foodland on Spring Street.
The station will have its official grand opening after the holiday season. It's now open to the public for fueling, said TJ Meadows, business manager with IGS Energy.
Wirts purchased the alternative fuel vehicle for his 15-year-old daughter, Christine, about a month ago. Since then, Wirts has parked his truck and switched to driving the smaller, more fuel-efficient ride until his daughter receives her driver's license.
"It's not a race car but it handles better than my truck does," he added.
While driving around town, Wirts said the car gets the equivalent of about 27 miles per gallon of gasoline. In the past month and a half, Wirts has only driven his truck once.
He works in the natural gas industry for EQT as an engineer and has been thinking about buying an alternative fuel vehicle since he received a tax break when he bought his last vehicle -- a "flex fuel" truck.
Flex fuel vehicles run off of traditional gasoline or a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol.
The state has stopped offering tax incentives for flex fuel vehicles but currently offers a $7,500 tax credit for compressed natural gas car and light-truck purchases. The state also offers tax credits for companies willing to build new natural gas fueling stations.
The sticker price of the Civic was $28,000, but because it was last year's model and was accompanied by tax incentives from the state, Honda and his employer, he paid about $23,400 for the car.
Wirts said a similar Civic that runs on regular gas cost about $18,000.
"[The price difference] is smaller than I initially thought," Wirts said. "But with all the incentives it's beautiful."
The eight-gallon-equivalent fuel tank allows Wirts to travel about 200 miles without re-fueling.
"Really there are not that many stations around," Wirts said. "I can get up to Pittsburgh and back without any issues but if for some reason that one Bridgeport station was down, I'd be out of luck."
The only downside to the CNG Civic is the lack of trunk space, Wirts said. A fuel storage tank takes up about two-thirds of the Civic's trunk space.
After several friends asked how long it takes to fuel the vehicle, Wirts timed it, and it took him three minutes.
"It's pretty close to a regular station," he said. "The connection to it is a little bit more complicated."
Wirts said the pump automatically shuts off, and he doesn't have any reservations about his daughter fueling up the vehicle. He's hopeful that more people will jump on board with natural gas-powered vehicles.
He recalls the compressed natural gas station that was located in Kanawha City about 15 years ago.
"It was in service for a couple of years but it couldn't make it," Wirts said. "I'm confident this time will be different."
Meadows of IGS Energy said the fueling station went through a standard "commissioning" phase. During the two- to three-day commissioning process, IGS officials and the ANGI Energy Systems representatives who built the two natural gas compressors at Spring Street test the fueling process for safety deficiencies like leaky valves.
Charleston's station will tap into a Mountaineer Gas line running alongside Spring Street. The station houses what is known as a "dyer package" that transforms the gas into a viable fuel source and from wet to dry gas.
Then the natural gas is compressed by one of two onsite compressor stations. After the gas is compressed, its last stop before fueling a vehicle will be one of two long-storage cylinders that will house compressed natural gas on site.
"The important thing is if someone wants [compressed natural gas], it's available, up and running and fully operational," Meadows said.
The station opened with compressed natural gas at $2.19 per gallon equivalent.
"[The price] is where we expected it to be. There's about a 30 percent savings," Meadows said. "While the gas prices for gasoline have varied our prices have stayed stable." Reach Caitlin Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5113.