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No fueling around

Published September 07. 2012 4:00AM

The partnership between Norwich, its city-owned Norwich Public Utilities and the state to expand the availability of natural gas to power vehicles is a forward-thinking proposal that will be good for economic development, the environment and for reducing United States dependence on foreign oil.

On Wednesday the city and utility announced that construction should begin next spring on a new natural gas vehicle fueling station in the West Town Street area with quick access to Interstate 395 and Route 2. The state, tapping federal transportation funds, awarded Norwich a $2 million grant to build the facility and convert 16 vehicles to run on natural gas. Seven will be NPU vehicles, adding to its fleet of 25 natural-gas powered vehicles, which have used the utility's existing natural gas filling station on North Main Street.

The grant will also pay for the conversion of vehicles for local private businesses - four for the beer distributor Levine Distributing Co., two for Prime Electric vans, and three shuttles for The William W. Backus Hospital.

Most exciting, however, is the prospect for the new, conveniently located natural gas station to drive economic development. Natural gas has a gasoline equivalent price of about $1.94 per gallon, about half of current gasoline prices. And all indications are that natural gas, which burns much cleaner, will remain cheaper over the long haul.

Domestic natural gas supplies have increased dramatically in recent years due largely to accessing shale gas, unlocked by advances in a drilling technology known as hydraulic fracturing. While environmental concerns raised by the process must be addressed, its impact on domestic energy supplies will be dramatic.

According to the Energy Information Administration, natural gas produced by drilling in shale formations will grow from today's 25 percent of the market to about 50 percent in 2035. This will keep prices low.

Businesses that depend on fleets of trucks to deliver goods are quickly seeing it is in their economic interest to convert those fleets to natural gas. And by being at the head of this trend, Norwich will have a great selling point to attract such businesses. The city can also encourage existing businesses to reduce energy costs by converting their vehicles, cutting overhead and freeing up resources for job creation.

This is the future.

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