Installation of at least one compressed natural gas fuel station is being planned for York County next year, but it might be years before the average consumer can say "Fill'er up."
As Rabbit Transit plans a private natural gas fill station at its new headquarters next year, area gasoline retailers said they're torn about when and whether to install public pumps at gas stations because, while demand is increasing, there aren't many consumers with natural gas-powered vehicles.
"It's a little bit of a chicken-and-egg syndrome," said Scott Hartman, president of Rutter's Farm Stores. "When you're talking about such a substantial investment, you need more than one customer."
It costs less than $100,000 to install a traditional gas pump, compared to between $500,000 and $1 million for the special compressor system needed for natural gas, he said.
"We welcome anyone interested in converting a fleet to let us know," he said.
Rob Rinehart, director of gasoline trading at Baltimore-based Royal Farms, said the chain is considering installation but wants to first see more demand and more natural gas vehicles.
"My personal opinion is that natural gas is the best alternative fuel that I'm aware of," he said. "I think it's definitely on the way, but there are just a couple barriers. It's kind of a leap of faith to get into this, but within two years, I think you'll see at least one in York County, whether it's us or someone else."
Shipley Energy, which operates Tom's stores and is a natural gas supplier, is considering installation of public pumps at one of its travel stations, such as its Shrewsbury location, as well as conversion of some its service vehicles, said Bob Astor, wholesale fuels business manager with Shipley Fuels Marketing.
"We're crunching numbers to see if this makes sense to do on a retail basis," Astor said. "We're concerned about whether there is a market for this product right now."
Shipley would likely offer a slower pump for overnight filling at its King Street garage, he said.
A gas incentive: As retailers decide whether to make fueling stations more widely available, state Rep. Stan Saylor has proposed a bill to incentivize conversion of public and business-owned fleets to natural gas.
House Bill 2251, sitting in the House Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy, would fund grants by taking $6 million per year for five years from the state's Clean Air Fund, he said.
Saylor said he wants municipalities and businesses to apply for the grants to convert their buses and other vehicles to natural gas, "getting the ball rolling" and making the alternative fuel more popular.
Saylor said the fuel is cleaner and supports the state's economy, and he's hoping the legislation will pass by the end of June.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at 505-5436, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter at @YDYorkCounty.