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NPU hopes to show natural gas vehicles are viable alternative for commercial fleets

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published September 05. 2012 11:00AM   Updated September 06. 2012 12:35AM

Norwich — Construction could begin by spring on a new natural gas fueling station in the West Town Street area — near both Route 2 and Interstate 395 — and should have private commercial fleet vehicles ready to use it when it opens.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced a $2 million grant to Norwich through federal transportation funds to build the new station and convert 16 vehicles to compressed natural gas fuel. Seven will be owned by Norwich Public Utilities, which will own and operate the station, and nine by private entities.

The new $2 million project will demonstrate that natural gas is a viable option for vehicles, Norwich Public Utilities General Manager John Bilda said Wednesday. Bilda, several city officials and representatives from The William W. Backus Hospital and Prime Electric, both of which will participate in the program, attended a press conference to provide details of the grant.

The fuel pump behind Bilda read $1.94 "gas gallon equivalent," a unit of measure used to compare compressed natural gas to gasoline, which now tops $4 per gallon in Connecticut. Natural gas trucks can travel about 280 miles on a full tank.

NPU has a purchase option on the former River Run nursery land on Otrobando Avenue, but Bilda said NPU is considering other sites. Bilda said he hopes to secure a site and permits to start construction in spring. The vehicle conversions could come sooner.

The North Main Street station, which requires users to register with NPU and use an access code, will remain open. The new station will be in a more convenient location for commercial fleets and near the entrance to the Stanley Israelite Norwich Business Park. The new stations will take credit cards without the need to register with NPU.

"We can envision fleets from all over New England stopping at this fueling station," Bilda said.

Prime Electric and Levine Distributing, a beer distribution company, both located in the business park, will buy vehicles and the grant will pay to convert two trucks and two vans for Levine and two vans for Prime Electric.

Prime Electric owner Frank Blanchard said he has been considering alternative fuel vehicles for a couple years and the company will consider purchasing an additional two vehicles in the "very near future." He said the company covers the entire state and wants to promote energy conservation and the use of alternative fuels.

Backus Hospital plans to replace three of its seven employee and equipment shuttle buses with natural gas buses. Backus also will install a slow overnight fueling station on the hospital campus for its fleet through the grant.

c.bessette@theday.com

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