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A natural Four Corners energy fix?

Compressed-gas auto fuel being studied by local groups

More than 1,000 compressed natural gas stations have opened in the U.S., including on Colorado’s Front Range, but, so far, there are none in the Four Corners. Enlarge photo

Shawn Raecke/The Idaho Statesman

More than 1,000 compressed natural gas stations have opened in the U.S., including on Colorado’s Front Range, but, so far, there are none in the Four Corners.

A coalition of energy-oriented organizations is exploring whether local fleet managers might be interested in powering their vehicles with compressed natural gas.

“We’re just getting started,” Teresa Shishim, program manager at Four Corners Office of Resource Efficiency, or 4CORE, said Tuesday. “Regional meetings are being scheduled.”

The incentive is using a fuel that is more environmentally friendly than gasoline or diesel, Shishim said. Also, compressed natural gas currently is more affordable than the other fuels,she said.

There’s a drawback, however. There are no compressed natural gas fueling stations here as there are along Colorado’s Front Range.

The interest in compressed natural gas as automotive fuel started with concern about air quality in the region, said Christi Zeller, director of the La Plata Energy Council.

“Compressed natural gas is obviously part of the solution,” Zeller said. “It’s a solution for air quality and from pure economics.”

School districts, counties, cities and private businesses could be interested in cutting costs and helping the environment, Zeller said.

“Natural gas is a good fit here,” Zeller said. “It’s what we do in La Plata County.”

Natural gas can be compressed locally, too, Zeller said. Natural gas compressed by Williams, an international energy company that operates in La Plata County, has been used in vehicles in New Mexico and Arizona.

A 40-page brochure sent to fleet managers in the region contained facts about compressed natural gas as automotive fuel. Among the facts:

There are 120,000 natural-gas vehicles on the road in the United States and 8.7 million in the world.

The price of natural gas in Greeley was $2.33 per gasoline gallon equivalent.

In the U.S., there are 1,047 compressed natural-gas stations. State numbers are: Colorado 15, New Mexico 4, Utah 40, Wyoming 4 and Arizona 8.

The Colorado Department of Revenue allows a tax credit for alternative-fuel vehicles.

Tim McCarthy, a rancher turned developer, is a partner with Kennon and Pam Decker in a venture to construct a truck stop on 9.5 acres along U.S. Highway 550 at the bottom of Bondad Hill. He wants the truck stop to offer compressed and liquid natural-gas fuel as well as gasoline and diesel.

“We’ll have our conceptuals (drawings) for the county in about three weeks, but I can’t say when we’ll be in the door,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “But our truck stop can tie together the Front Range, New Mexico and points west.”

McCarthy envisions the truck stop as a full-service center for the public as well as truckers. A planned future realignment of County Road 310 where it hits Highway 550 would make the truck stop a hub for interstate travelers, he said.

Highway 550 has an average daily traffic count of 8,500 vehicles, he said. About 4,000 vehicles a day will ply two feeder roads, county roads 310 and 318, he said.

Plans call for a welcome center, cafe and convenience store, he said.

The availability of compressed natural gas near the Colorado/New Mexico line would be a link between such stations in the Denver and Albuquerque areas, Sishim said.

Meanwhile, Mesa Verde National Park is ready to start using another alternative fuel in its vehicles.

The park soon will take delivery of its first vehicle – a Ford F-250 pickup – powered by liquid propane.

“It’s in transit and will be delivered any day now,” park fleet manager Dave Denske said Tuesday. “I’ll use it for maintenance work in the park and for hauling supplies.”

The park currently has 75 vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel, Denske said.

Even before the pickup is delivered, park officials are talking about getting a tour bus and a lawn mower powered by liquid propane, Denske said.

Mesa Verde officials also are working through the Clean Cities Coalition to use a $240,000 Department of Energy grant to build a liquid propane fueling station at Morefield Campground for public use, Denske said.

Other members of the coalition conducting the compressed natural-gas survey are BP and the La Plata Energy Council.

Questionnaires have been sent to cities, counties and Fort Lewis College, Shishim said.

daler@durangoherald.com