Clean energy strategy must include 'strong commitment' to NGVs

A new national clean energy strategy that emphasizes electricity production from renewable sources must also include a strong natural gas vehicle commitment, said two speakers.

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 18 -- A new national clean energy strategy that emphasizes electricity production from renewable sources must also include a strong natural gas vehicle commitment, said two speakers who will participate in an upcoming clean energy forum in Washington, DC, on Feb. 23.

"We have a significant fuel source for vehicles in natural gas that we need to develop," said US Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) during a press teleconference on Feb. 18. "We want to start by fueling almost 400,000 18-wheelers immediately. This would cut imports significantly," he said.

Energy investor T. Boone Pickens said wind and solar energy development and construction of a smart power grid are important first steps, but more needs to be done.

"We need to work hard to use more domestic energy in our transportation and rely less on foreign oil. Natural gas is the only way to make a difference now," Pickens said, adding that it could replace diesel fuel in large trucks.

Gas is cleaner, with 30% less carbon and 93% fewer toxic emissions than diesel, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, and costs only the equivalent of $1.59/gal, Pickens said during a teleconference with Reid and others who will participate in a Feb. 23 clean energy forum hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The US has plenty of natural gas onshore in shale basins, Pickens continued. "We are absolutely overwhelmed with natural gas. It's so abundant. Remember this: Natural gas is the only [alternate] fuel that can move an 18-wheeler. You can't move it with a battery," he said.

US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also participated in the teleconference with reporters. The Feb. 23 forum will discuss modernizing and expanding the US electricity grid, integrating energy efficiency and distributed generation into operations and regulations, and reducing US dependence on foreign oil by developing new domestic sources of transportation fuel, organizers said. Former US President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore also will be on the conference program, they added.

Challenge, opportunity
"This is a signature challenge and opportunity," Salazar said. "We all recognize that our national and environmental security and economic strength are closely tied to developing this new energy economy." The US Department of the Interior can contribute in two ways, he continued: "First, with its control over so much land, we can provide sites onshore and offshore for solar, wind, and other renewable energy production sites. Second, we also can provide routes for transmission lines.

"President [Barack H.] Obama has made it starkly clear that it's a new day in America. We no longer look at simply drilling to produce new energy. It's a very different time now," Salazar maintained.

He also said that producing more gas to meet additional demand if more gas vehicles are built will not necessarily require leasing more of the US Outer Continental Shelf. "There are natural gas resources being developed all over the country," the secretary said.

Reid and Pickens separately said that one commercial trucking company's chief executive, Jerry C. Moyes of Swift Transportation Co. in Phoenix, has expressed interest already in buying trucks that run on natural gas. "He orders 23 Kenworth trucks a day, which translates into more than 8,000 yearly," Pickens said.

He conceded that financial incentives will be needed initially because a large truck engine that uses natural gas instead of diesel costs $75,000-80,000 more. "But if we provide that and do the 14,000 18-wheelers that Sen. Reid is talking about, it will create thousands of jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," the former oil and gas executive said.

Salazar said that it's time for a new energy approach. "We need to have a different mind-set to open our eyes and create new opportunities to fulfill the environmental, energy, and economic needs of America," he declared.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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