With natural gas vehicles on the way, training is one priority - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

With natural gas vehicles on the way, training is one priority

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The last time an effort was made to introduce natural gas vehicles in West Virginia, several decades ago, public education was an afterthought.

Not this time.

"This time we're going to educate drivers, we're going to educate fleets, we're going to educate technicians and the public about these vehicles," said Bill Davis, acting director of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium at West Virginia University in Morgantown. "This time, when they do show up, everything will go smoothly."

Education and training were among the topics discussed at a July 10 stakeholder meeting of the West Virginia Clean State Program hosted by the NAFTC. Administered by the state Division of Energy, the Clean State Program is one of 90 such programs nationwide sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy to advance the use of alternative transportation fuels. 

Along with Davis, speakers at the July 10 meeting included Chris Weikle, deputy director of public policy for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; Harrison County Commissioner Mike Romano; Bret Chandler, managing director of Propane Fuel Technologies; Rebekah Hogue, special projects coordinator for the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association; T.J. Meadows, compressed natural gas business manager at IGS Energy – CNG Services; Michael Moore, president of CNG Innovations of WV; and Clean State Program Coordinator Kelly Bragg.

The 30 or so participants at the meeting represented a broad range of stakeholders, according to Davis: gas suppliers, vehicle converters, state government agencies, fleet managers, financers and developers of fueling stations and fueling equipment, trainers and others.

"We had some significant discussions on the advantages and disadvantages of both propane and natural gas, what's going on within the industry, and how we can do conversions within the state," Davis said.

"We also talked about how we can put infrastructure within the state — and when you're dealing with alternative fuels, infrastructure is a key issue," he said.

NAFTC had natural gas and propane vehicles on hand for participants to view.

Davis spoke of some efforts already under way across the state: the Kanawha Converts consortium that is looking to promote the use of natural gas vehicles in Kanawha County, for example, and IGS Energy - CNG Services' plan to build a four-station CNG fueling corridor on Interstate 79 in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, planned to be complete and open to the public around the end of this year.

"But for me, one of the key things was the agreement at the end that we need to educate people about these vehicles before we start the process of bringing them into play," Davis said.

Early educational efforts would be concentrated in the priority regions of the state, those with the greatest vehicle fleet concentrations, as identified in the February report of the Governor's Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force. They include Berkeley, Cabell, Fayette, Greenbrier, Harrison, Jefferson, Kanawha, Logan, Marion, Mercer, Monongalia, Ohio, Putnam, Raleigh, Wayne and Wood counties.

"We're going to do education and outreach sessions in those areas as part of the Natural Gas Vehicle Transition Team within the state of West Virginia," Davis said.

He said the NAFTC is working with the Division of Energy to put together education and outreach programs and expects to begin holding sessions for fleet managers, city and county government officials and the general public possibly as early as the fall of this year.