CNG could be driving force in Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Many in our area and around the country say compressed natural gas is the fuel of the future.

With the first station in the Valley set to open later this year, the push toward CNG vehicles has never been higher. But if you’re in the market for one, can you get it? And what will it mean in terms of safety?

Until recently, it hasn’t been practical for an everyday driver here in the Valley to even consider getting a car fueled by compressed natural gas. The cost and fueling stations are two major obstacles, but that could soon be changing for a variety of reasons.

The Valley’s first CNG pumps are scheduled to open later this year at the Mister Fuel station on Salt Springs Road in Weathersfield Township.

Right now the business is targeting commercial customers, companies with vehicle fleets looking to reduce fuel costs.

“AT&T for example has publicly stated that they’re slowly converting their fleet over to compressed natural gas,” said Dave Mrowzinski, IGS Energy CNG Services. “Further on the medium and heavy-duty side, companies like Waste Management.”

But the market for personal vehicles also could be opening up soon. This summer, a CNG powered Chevrolet Impala is expected to hit the market. It will have two fuel tanks: One for gasoline and one that will allow the car to travel for 150 miles on compressed natural gas.

A new tax break could help bring down the cost of the vehicles. State Rep. Sean O’Brien, D-Hubbard, has been working on a bill that would provide incentives for consumers to buy CNG vehicles or convert the ones they have.

“Tax incentives are what really drives people to want to convert, people to want to utilize this fuel,” said O’Brien. “We’re going to see first of all more OEMs, that is Chryslers and the GMs and Ford creating more and more CNG vehicles that are powered solely by natural gas.

More CNG vehicles on the road raises some concerns for first responders. Just last month a new CNG-powered semi-truck caught fire and exploded in a grocery store parking lot in Boardman. The driver escaped without injury, but battling the blaze, that was fueled by a full tank of natural gas, presented some challenges for firefighters.

“This is our first one that we’ve had this way,” said Boardman Fire Chief George Brown. “I will be following up with the CNG Association to see what advice they could have and what could be the cause.”

Brown said his crews will receive special training to make sure they know how to best handle accidents involving compressed natural gas.

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