Legislature(2009 - 2010)BUTROVICH 205
04/07/2009 01:00 PM TRANSPORTATION
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SB 34-COMPRESSED NATURAL GAS FOR STATE VEHICLES 2:11:20 PM SENATOR KOOKESH announced the consideration of SB 34. SENATOR FRED DYSON, sponsor of SB 34, said compressed natural gas (CNG) often is overlooked as an energy source, and anyone paying attention to energy needs realizes that almost none of the alternative sources work for the transportation sector. Technology for battery-powered and hydrogen-fueled vehicles hasn't come as far as everyone hoped it would when it was initially considered 10-15 years ago, but CNG is making an impact in the transportation industry. In Argentina 85 percent of the public vehicles are CNG powered and the states of Texas and Utah are currently running fleets of buses that are powered by CNG. SENATOR DYSON said his professional experience is that virtually all diesel engines can be converted to run on some derivative of natural gas, which is hopeful for generator use in rural Alaska. It's an open argument as to whether propane or natural gas is more efficient, but he surmises that CNG is more economic for industrial users. 2:14:00 PM SENATOR DYSON said that Anchorage had quite a few CNG and propane-powered vehicles 10-15 years ago, but there weren't any filling stations for those vehicles. Anchorage gas companies have said they will build the stations just as soon as there's a market, and the market is waiting for filling stations before buying CNG or propane-powered vehicles. He noted that in his community quite a few folks have connected their generator to their house natural gas supply for use when the commercial electric power goes down. Some folks have also tapped into their natural gas line and put in a compressor to fill their private vehicles using what's called a slow fill. Commercial applications provide a high pressure quick fill, which is needed for buses and other commercial vehicles. He related that he is trying to push the Municipality of Anchorage to purchase CNG powered buses as it replaces the current fleet, but they argue that there isn't a filling station. He asked Enstar to make it work but thus far there is no resolution. The advantage of CNG for the transportation sector is apparent even at today's prices. As those prices go up with the expected surge in crude oil prices, the economics tilt further in favor of CNG. Also, the difference in emissions is profound, particularly for diesel. Nitrogen oxide from diesel engines is difficult to deal with and converting diesel engines to natural gas will not only affect emissions, it will also affect the regulatory environment in which they operate. As carbon trapping and trading becomes more common, using natural gas in the transportation sector will become more significant. SENATOR DYSON related that in his area a local contractor has proposed to use the methane that's produced from the municipal landfill to supply hundreds of vehicles with fuel each day. It's a marriage made in heaven when you can solve somebody's problem and make money doing so, he said 2:18:53 PM SB 34 proposes a Department of Transportation (DOT) task force to study the feasibility of using CNG to power vehicles in the state. He said he thinks municipal and state fleets are the logical test. In the last 15 years the technology for storage, conversions, and compressors has come forward an order of magnitude making it very practical. SENATOR MENARD noted the fiscal note is $75,000. LUCKY SCHULTZ, Staff to Senator Dyson, explained that DOT wants to hire a consultant to do a proper study. SENATOR DYSON added that the original intention was for DOT to do this in-house, but they were reluctant to take this additional project on with their existing staff. 2:21:18 PM SENATOR KOOKESH noted that Aaron Bunker from CNG Alaska and Diana Rotkis from DOT are online to answer questions. MR. SCHULTZ reported that CNG Alaska has estimated that the quantity of methane coming from the Anchorage land fill is equivalent to 4,000 to 5,000 gallons of gasoline per day. 2:22:36 PM SENATOR MEYER recalled that MOA was buying natural gas powered cars and trucks in the 1990s and there was talk about extending that to buses. He asked if that effort petered out because there weren't any filling stations. MR. SCHULTZ said the major problem was getting people to participate. There was cost associated with converting a vehicle and natural gas powered vehicles were more expensive. Things have changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years; technology has improved and gas and diesel prices are much higher than in the 1990s. 2:23:58 PM SENATOR MEYER questioned why state vehicles shouldn't be required to convert to natural gas. MR. SCHULTZ said that's the goal, but before making that commitment he'd like to hear from an expert about the costs and benefits. SENATOR KOOKESH said thus the request for a study. SENATOR DYSON added that somebody has to make the investment in the vehicles to create a market to put filling stations out there. The state is the logical one to do that with short-haul vehicles. The big difference now as compared to 15 years ago is the fuel cost differential, but engines that run on CNG also last longer and have lower emissions. This appears to be a win- win but somebody needs to break the logjam, he said. 2:25:47 PM SENATOR PASKVAN commented that he hopes the study will look into the pollution issue that's related to air inversion. It's a health issue for significant areas of Alaska. SENATOR KOOKESH, finding no further comments or questions, closed public testimony and asked the will of the committee. SENATOR MENARD moved to report SB 34 from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). There being no objection, SB 34 moved from the Senate Transportation Standing Committee.