For one midstate energy company, the pressure is on — and that’s a good thing.
York-based Shipley Energy this week announced the opening of York County’s first public compressed natural gas, or CNG, fueling station.
Located at an existing Pacific Pride commercial fuel station in Spring Garden Township, the CNG facility was built as a partnership between Shipley and California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp., one of the leading builders and operators of CNG stations in North America.
Shipley President and COO Matt Sommer said the station will allow the company to fuel its own CNG-powered tanker trucks, while giving other fleet operators a place to do the same as interest in the alternative fuel grows.
“We’re interested in doing more of these if there proves to be demand for them,” Sommer said.
That demand could be driven by lower fuel and operating costs, combined with less impact on the environment — on average, the price of CNG is much less volatile than diesel, Shipley officials said, and CNG emits 30 percent less carbon than other fossil fuels.
According to the latest Alternative Fuels Data Center report, the national average price per gallon for CNG in January was $2.11 per gasoline gallon equivalent — the measurement used to compare a gas like CNG with liquid fuels.
The national average price for gasoline, meanwhile, was $2.32 per gallon, while diesel was averaging $2.58 per gallon, the center reported.
Sommer said company officials hope the Shipley station’s location on Loucks Mill Road, near to Route 30 and Interstate 83, will help attract CNG fleet vehicles passing through the area, as well as local operators.
Prior to Shipley’s installation, the nearest public dispensers to York County were located in Lancaster, Carlisle and Harrisburg, as well as in Baltimore.
One local operator already is taking advantage of the new CNG station is the City of York Public Works Department, which operates a CNG-powered street sweeper.
Previously, the department had been filling the sweeper at a private station, which was farther away from the department’s base, Public Works Director James Gross said.
York’s experience with the sweeper highlights the costs and benefits of CNG for fleet operators.
The vehicle cost more than the department’s diesel-powered sweeper, Gross said, adding that a new diesel model rings in at about $250,000, while a CNG version can top $300,000.
The main trade-off is that CNG engines suffer less wear and are easier to maintain, so they also can last longer, Gross and Sommer explained.
“It’s also better for the environment,” Gross said. “Air quality is always a concern.”
As with new vehicles, the investment in fueling facilities can be substantial. A small installation like Shipley’s two-nozzle pump on Loucks Mill Road can exceed $1 million, Sommer explained.
But, he reiterated, the promise of growth lies in the combination of lower maintenance costs as well as typically lower fuel costs.
“Commercial fleets are rapidly expanding their use of CNG as technology improves since it offers a clean, cost-efficient alternative to diesel and gasoline,” Sommer said.
Shipley Energy recently added five dedicated CNG Class 8 trucks to its fleet, with plans to add more in the future.
Companies such as FedEx and Frito Lay that already use natural gas vehicles and have existing national accounts with Clean Energy will be among the most frequent users of the new station, but refueling services will be available to anyone with a compatible vehicle.
When plans for the fueling station were announced last summer, There were 921 public CNG fueling stations across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.
As of Wednesday, that number stood at 948, with 45 in Pennsylvania.
Andrew J. Littlefair, CEO of Clean Energy, said his company also sees an expanding demand for CNG.
“Growing our network of stations is a large part of our core business, and partnering with energy providers like Shipley Energy, combines that network with a growing customer base,” Littlefair said.
“We completed 62 of these types of construction projects last year, and we’re planning on having another strong year in 2017.”