The America state is looking for a private company to operate its compressed natural gas dispenser on Stickney Avenue in Concord, which would make it the second place in New Hampshire where private vehicles can fuel up on natural gas.
The pump, on state property near the bus station, has been open since 2001. But it's only used by government vehicles: eight owned by the state, plus two natural-gas-powered vehicles owned by the city of Concord, said Rebecca Ohler, transportation and energy programs manager at the Department of Environmental Services.
Nearby gas and diesel pumps operated by the Department of Transportation will be removed later this year once a new fueling facility is completed on Hazen Drive. But the natural gas facility was upgraded over the last year and a half to be more reliable, Ohler said, and private-sector demand is on the rise.
"It's still under-utilized," she said. "It has additional capacity and we know there's interest in this area by fleets that can't fill at the site now, because the state statute bars the state from selling fuel to the private sector."
Within the next few months, she said, the state will issue a request for bids to lease and operate the site, which has a single dispensing pump and three above-ground tanks.
Compressed natural gas, or CNG, is becoming more popular as fuel for transit buses and other vehicles in the United States, thanks to a price that is both lower and more stable than either diesel fuel or gasoline, Ohler said. It also produces fewer harmful emissions and leads to lower vehicle maintenance costs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
About 112,000 vehicles in the United States run on natural gas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And in a draft study released Aug. 1, the National Petroleum Council said vehicles running on natural gas could be competitive with gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles "if the lower cost of natural gas (relative to petroleum) persists, and if fueling infrastructure is available and fully utilized."
Infrastructure, though, is an issue. There are 1,065 CNG stations across the nation, according to the Energy Department, but only about 500 of them are available for public use.
New Hampshire has just one public station, on Riverside Drive in Nashua. The Concord station and a second facility at the University of New Hampshire in Durham can only be used by government-owned vehicles.
"And that's one of the reasons we're very interested in getting another public access station on the north-south corridor," Ohler said.
Ohler said the lease for the Concord station would likely be for five years, since the DOT wants to retain the property for a future widening of Interstate 93, a plan that's been in the works for years.
"They don't want to have something permanent on the site," she said.
The city zoning board signed off on the project Aug. 1, approving two necessary variances on a 3-2 vote. One allows a fueling facility in the area and a second allows hazardous materials to be stored in the Merrimack River floodplain. The state is usually exempt from local land-use regulations but the variances were needed because the site will be used by a private company.
Any future expansion of the facility, Ohler said, would have to come back before the zoning board for approval.