Pennsylvania’s economic development team wants drivers to start filling  up their cars with natural gas – and they’re willing to hand out taxpayer money to kickstart the trend.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority awarded more than $2  million in grant money plus a $169,000 loan for five natural gas fueling  stations at its Tuesday meeting.

The goal is that incentivizing fueling stations will, in the long term,  continue to grow the state’s Marcellus Shale-related job markets,  said Steve Kratz, spokesman for the Department of Community and  Economic Development.

“The expanded use of natural gas vehicles in the state not only helps from a  developing markets perspective, but it’s also better for the environment,” Kratz  said.

Natural gas is widely considered cleaner and cheaper to burn than petroleum,  but a dearth of fueling stations means drivers won’t necessarily get very  far.

About 112,000 vehicles in the United States run on natural  gas. The general public has access to 605 compressed natural gas fueling stations, according to  federal data, along with 35 liquid natural gas fueling stations concentrated in  the west.

State support for fueling stations, Kratz said, is part of a “long-term  strategy” to create jobs beyond natural gas extraction.

Last year, the authority’s seven-member board decided natural gas awards  could be included as part of its Alternative and Clean Energy Program. In  May, more than $1.8 million in grant money went towards five fueling stations,  some of which were for companies converting their fleets to natural gas.  The Department of Environmental Protection is  providing a three-year disbursement of $20 million toward grants for  natural gas vehicle fleets. 

Going forward, the Commonwealth Financing Authority will contribute  up to half the cost for CNG or LNG fuel station projects using a combination of  grants and loans. Newly approved guidelines will allow up to a 25 percent  grant incentive for private stations, and a 40 percent grant incentive for  publicly accessible ones.

All the recent Commonwealth Financing Authority fuel station awards went  towards publicly accessible CNG stations. Sunoco will receive more  than $500,000 for installing a CNG refueling station at the Pennsylvania  Turnpike King of Prussia Service Plaza, and another in nearby Upper Merion  Township.

Clean Energy Inc., will add another station to an existing CNG fuel stop  in Upper Merion Township with around $196,000 in state grant money.  Clean Energy is receiving another grant for around $436,000 to add a CNG fueling  station to a gas station in Hamilton Township in Adams  CountyThe other two projects are  in Franklin  County and Philadelphia.

Kratz said CFA chooses which projects to award using a scoring system that  measures economic activity and project viability, among other  considerations.

The Corbett administration isn’t the only government cheerleader for natural  gas infrastructure. Just a couple weeks before the grant announcement, Sen.  Bob Casey, D-Pa., was in Erie promoting his Clean Vehicle Corridors Act, aimed at lining interstates  with natural gas fueling stations.


This map from the Alternative Fuels Data Center shows  CNG fueling stations (click to enlarge).

“This legislation can help Pennsylvania take the next step in the development  of alternative fuels,” Casey said in a release. “Putting in place more  infrastructure and making it easier for businesses to transport their goods  using alternative energy will help these businesses grow and create jobs.”

Christina Simeone, director of PennFuture’s Energy Center, said of the  fossil fuels available, natural gas is among the most clean burning. Though it  still emits pollution, chemical levels are lower than that of a fuel like  diesel, Simeone said.

“When you take a diesel school bus, for example, and you substitute that with  a natural gas school bus, there are some really beneficial reductions in  pollution,” Simeone said.

Vehicles can be converted to run off of natural gas, while others are  manufactured that way. A CNG-fueled Honda Civic has been on the market since 2008. It sells  for about $26,000, about $8,000 more than a typical Civic.

Ford announced in July it will begin offering an F-150 that runs on CNG. Though  the CNG version of the truck adds as much as $9,500 to the purchase price, Ford  estimates consumers would see a payback on the purchase in two to three years  thanks to fuel savings.

CNG fuel costs about $2.11 per gallon of equivalent gasoline, according to  Ford, while gas prices hover at a national average of around $3.50 a gallon.

Dan Whitten, senior director of communications for America’s Natural Gas  Alliance, said the organization doesn’t take a position on public funding for  natural gas infrastructure. But he did say the trend of natural gas fueled  vehicles is on the rise, starting with private and municipal fleets.

Switching hundreds of trucks from petroleum to natural gas could add up to  millions in savings, Whitten said. Some companies have private fuel  stations for their fleets. Fracking companies, Whitten said, often fuel their  drilling rigs with natural gas.

“This is becoming more and more a part of how we’re moving things around, and  moving people around,” Whitten said.

By: Melissa Daniels at