Republican leaders of the Oklahoma House are pushing an ambitious program to use taxpayer dollars to encourage motorists to fuel their cars and trucks with compressed natural gas, a plentiful fuel that is more economical and produces less emissions than traditional motor fuels.
The idea has received bipartisan support in the House, which has overwhelmingly approved several energy-related measures and sent them to the Senate for consideration. But some lawmakers question whether state government should be meddling in the CNG business and believe the investment may actually discourage private operators.
The alternative fuel plan was developed by House Speaker Chris Benge and would appear to be a role reversal for the Tulsa Republican who is best known for promoting tax cuts and less government spending. But Benge defended the program as a way to wean the state and nation from dependence on foreign oil and position the state as a leader in alternative fuels.
The bill would authorize the Department of Central Services to build alternative fuel stations for state agencies and the vehicle fleets of schools and county and city governments.The fueling stations would also have public access to CNG in underserved areas unless a private provider locates within five miles of the facility.
The State Fleet Management Fund would be amended to allow money to be used to build alternative fuel stations or buy alternative fuel vehicles for state agencies or to lease to cities and counties.
The maximum amount of a loan for a fueling station will increase to $300,000. The cap on an existing 50 percent tax credit on the cost of converting vehicles to CNG will remain at $10,000, the average cost of a conversion.
At least nine other states offer some form of tax credit for building alternative fuel stations or vehicle conversions including Utah, which provides an income tax credit for 50 percent of the incremental cost of a clean-fuel vehicle, up to $3,000, and a 50 percent income tax credit for the cost of converting a vehicle, up to $2,500.
Oklahoma currently has 28 alternative fuel stations, more than Utah and all but two other states - California and New York. A total of 27 of Oklahoma's alternative fuel stations are owned by Oklahoma Natural Gas Co., which estimates there are between 1,200 and 1,500 CNG-powered vehicles in the state.
Gasoline is currently selling for about $1.80 a gallon while a one gallon equivalent of CNG sells for about $1.03, according to Brad Ballard, manager of business development for ONG.