Utility Wants to Start Installing and Owning Small-Scale Compressed Natural Gas Fueling

NW Natural, a gas utility that serves a wide customer footprint near Portland, Ore., is seeking approval from the Public Utility Commission of Oregon (OPUC) to – in effect – become a natural gas refueling provider for fleets.

The request is aimed at enabling the company to bring compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling capabilities to its business customers – some of which already operate natural gas vehicles (NGVs), and others that are currently examining NGV conversions for their fleets.

According to NW Natural, the ‘cost of the service would be paid by the customers who use it.’ The company would ‘install, own and maintain’ the CNG equipment located at customers' sites.

At least five NW Natural business customers – the Port of Portland, Daimler Trucks North America, TriMet, West Linn Paper Co. and Metro – are fully behind the measure. Each of these organizations provided to OPUC a letter of support for the optional rider, which would be specified as Schedule H, ‘Large Volume High Pressure Gas Service’ (HPGS).

NW Natural says Schedule H would enable the utility to offer fleets a turnkey solution that would not have otherwise been available without ‘significant upfront capital investment.’

With Schedule H, the utility would provide a high-speed reciprocating compressor, CNG storage apparatus and a fast-fill dispenser. The customers would be allowed to add additional fast-fill dispensers or time-fill posts, as well as additional on-site storage.

The measure would also clear a path for public CNG refueling. NW Natural business customers that exercise the rider could outfit their facilities with all the necessary equipment to accommodate public access. However, these customers would be required to handle all the ‘activities related to the resale of CNG.’

Ten-year operations and maintenance agreements, as well as long-term fuel-supply contacts, would accompany all HPGS relationships.

In terms of demand, NW Natural's initial estimates suggest that more than 25 customers could link into the HPGS program in the next five years – not quite a deluge, but certainly a step forward in a state that currently has only three public CNG stations.

No word yet on when OPUC will look at NW Natural's proposal.

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