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The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area will soon see its first natural gas filling station open to the public — but it’s coming to an unlikely venue.
Beer distributor LT Verrastro Inc. recently received a grant from the state for $217,000 to help build a CNG filling station at its headquarters in the 700-block of Moosic Road in Old Forge.
CNG stands for compressed natural gas and allows cars and trucks to run on natural gas rather than tradition — and expensive — gasoline.
The company also plans to convert its fleet of about 50 vehicles to CNG while purchasing new trucks that run on natural gas. The station will also be open to the public, something not seen in the metro area up until now.
“This is a commitment — it’s the right thing to do,” said Leonard Verrastro, vice president of LT Verrastro Inc in an interview with The Times-Tribune. “We can’t make this like a convenience store and have it open 18 hours a day. We have to figure out how to make it work for everyone,” he said.
The closest CNG stations in NEPA are currently in Towanda and Athens. At the time of publication, CNG was $1.99 per gallon. There are other natural gas stations in State College and Allentown.
“It’s catching on in NEPA because of the sheer volume of natural gas that is being produced in our area, thereby making it such a cost-effective alternative fuel,” said John Augustine III, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. He said CNG prices often depend on where you are. “Gasoline prices change on a daily basis and prices a city away or one state away can sometimes mean several dollars difference.”
He said because natural gas can be stored, customers don’t see the price fluctuation they do with gasoline. “On average, we see around the country, it’s about $2 per gallon,” said Augustine. “That’s versus $3.50 to $4 per gallon. From a purely economic standpoint, you’re saving upwards of $1.50 per gallon.”
Augustine said CNG is also cheaper than traditional gasoline because it doesn’t need to be refined. Moreover, he also said it doesn’t incur the transportation costs that gasoline does. “It’s certainly more affordable,” he said.
Local car dealers are hesitant to sell a car that operates on CNG because drivers can’t fill up locally. However, he thinks of Verrastro’s station that could change. “I think that you will see these types of stations explode,” said Augustine. “I think this is the next big thing.”
People can buy a conversion kit for their car, which runs about $4,000. Williamsport Mayor Gabe Campana recently converted his car to CNG as well as converted his home to a fuel station.
“I liken it to big screen televisions,” said Augustine. “When they first came out, they were really expensive and now, as the better technology was developed, they became much more affordable. I think that you’ll see stations at industrial parks where companies such as UPS and FedEx can use these stations.”
Waste Management uses many CNG stations in what Augustine said is a growing trend. Waste Management recently opened a station for public use in Bristol.
“It will make it more economical for these companies because they currently run on diesel, which is already higher than gasoline. It will be more cost efficient for them,” he said. “The more public opportunity that you have, the more the public will begin to convert their cars and the more the automakers will do it.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under its Natural Gas Vehicle Development Program gave the Rose Tree Media School District near Chester, a $500,000 grant to convert its existing buses and buy new buses that used compressed natural gas.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center also announced a similar grant in January announcing they will do much the same. In 1996, the Centre Area Transportation Authority (CAT), which provides transportation around State College including Penn State University, introduced its first fleet of CNG busses. LT Verrastro received one of 13 grants throughout the state as part of the Commonwealth Financing Authority as part of the state’s Alternative and Clean Energy Program.