20100707-news-0101Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Written by Jeremy Alford

While the governor took a red pen to lawmakers’ projects statewide, he left Lafayette-based initiatives alone, including a whopping $1 million earmark to promote compressed natural gas in the parish.

Make no mistake: Gov. Bobby Jindal is on the CNG bandwagon. For those of you not keeping track at home, that’s compressed natural gas — and interests in Lafayette ranging from the chamber to Acadiana’s legislative delegation are all ga-ga for it, as they should be. With an economic depression settling over the Gulf of Mexico in terms of exploration, Lafayette is positioned to be a case study for converting public vehicles to run on CNG.

For his part, Jindal left whole a $1 million budget earmark this session for Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government to move forward with CNG infrastructure, construction, fueling stations, pipelines and the purchase of CNG vehicles. When it comes to alternative fuels and green options, it’s the future — now.

CNG is made when natural gas, the same stuff Louisiana’s existing drilling rigs are pulling, is compressed to less than 1 percent of the volume it occupies at standard atmospheric pressure. Many of the vehicles on the market that run on CNG have canisters in the rear end, meaning a switch can be flipped to make the vehicle run on conventional gas or CNG. Overall, it’s about 30 percent to 50 percent cheaper than the gas you get at the pump today.

Carmakers like Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen are already producing such CNG vehicles, but only Honda has a model that’s 100 percent CNG. On the state and federal level, there are tax credits available for consumers to convert their existing vehicles.
There’s also a $5,000 tax credit for purchasing a full-on CNG model, like the Honda Civic GX.

Additionally, due to their lower emissions, CNG-powered public buses are becoming more common throughout the U.S. In California, for example, CNG fleets are taking over city and county operations. Rep. Michael Jackson of Baton Rouge, who is not affiliated with any party, passed a resolution during the session directing the departments of environmental quality and transportation to study the feasibility of using CNG buses in mass transit applications in Louisiana. The findings are expected by the end of the year.

In Shreveport, city officials have already used federal money to buy buses that will run off CNG mined from the local Haynesville Shale area. The Baton Rouge-based Shaw Group, meanwhile, is carrying out a state contract to convert other mass transit options and school buses.

Last week, Jindal also endorsed Senate Bill 103 by Sens. Nick Gautreaux, D-Abbeville, and Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, which creates the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Revolving Loan Fund Program. The initiative will be fully online by July 1, functioning within the Department of Natural Resources. In theory, this fund would provide financial assistance to local governments to help them convert their current fleets to clean fuel vehicles.

There’s only one glaring problem: there’s no actual money available for the fund. “There’s no state appropriation for this,” says Michot, although his home parish has $1 million to get rolling. If Lafayette Parish has anyone to thank for the earmark, it’s Michot, who serves in Jindal’s leadership as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. While Jindal vetoed millions of dollars worth of earmarks from lawmakers who are either low on the totem pole or who have an adversarial relationship with the administration, Lafayette’s pet projects were left alone.

In coming years, Gautreaux says the fund could be filled with federal dollars. In fact, there is already some evidence that the federal government might be willing to free up money for the cause. For example, part of the federal stimulus package that was unveiled last year included millions of dollars for Louisiana to introduce CNG as an alternative fuel.

While money for a state-run program is a challenge right now, so is infrastructure. California is on the cutting edge of this new technology but has only 100 or so filling stations for its converted vehicles. And last month, Oklahoma’s governor signed a bill into law that calls for establishing a CNG station every 100 miles of interstate highway by 2015 and every 50 miles by 2025. Supporters agree that Louisiana will have to catch up to make a real play, and Lafayette could be at the forefront of that effort.

To be certain, the parish has several balls in the air. Aside from Jindal’s $1 million lump sum, Houston-based Apache Oil, which has an office in Lafayette, has vowed to construct a filling station here. The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, working in concert with UL and parish officials, is likewise behind a consortium pushing to build another three fueling stations for public vehicles through grant work and applications to the Federal Transit Administration. University Avenue is the target, since it already has nearby natural gas lines.

Given the ban on new exploration in the Gulf, the timing has never been better for CNG in Louisiana, especially as the Haynesville Shale continues to outpace expectations. Just consider that the U.S. has been increasingly dependent on foreign oil to supply its energy needs since the 1950s, with more than 60 percent of the supply now being imported — and that Louisiana has an abundance of natural gas.

When Scott Angelle, the state’s natural resources secretary who has temporarily vacated the position to serve as lieutenant governor for a few months, attended the groundbreaking of a CNG fueling station south of Ruston last year, he framed the argument concisely in a way that still resonates. “I believe we are in the golden age of natural gas, and facilities such as this can be the beginning of how that change gains momentum,” Angelle said. “This is an opportunity for Louisiana to take the lead in showing the rest of our nation that it can be done and how it should be done.”

Jeremy Alford can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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