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Alternative fuel may get boost in Pasco

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 10:27 AM
NEW PORT RICHEY -

A dream of Pasco County officials had seemed to run out of gas to convert fleets to alternative fuels. Proposed legislation from East Pasco freshman state Sen. Wilton Simpson, however, could go a long way toward reviving a local project for compressed natural gas in vehicles.

Since September 2011, Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher and others had promoted the concept for CNG, primarily in garbage trucks, heavy-duty county vehicles and perhaps school buses.

Bill Bunting, Pasco's Republican state committeeman, has preached potential benefits of natural-gas powered vehicles for years.

A summit in December 2011 outlined a central CNG refueling station to serve Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The idea pretty much sat on a shelf since then.

An age-old conundrum confronted Pasco officials — which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

On one hand, CNG fuel can slash costs compared to filling up with gasoline, cut pollution and dramatically reduce engine wear and tear.

On the other hand, the retrofit of existing trucks can get quite pricey. CNG fueling stations are few and far between.

Commissioner Henry Wilson and Bunting, however, have continued to wave the CNG banner. Now their faith could be vindicated.

Regular gas prices of $3.53 or more per gallon in West Pasco could make CNG even more attractive. A full tank of CNG would cost at least $1.50 less per gallon than other fuels, experts calculate.

Simpson, R-Trilby, entered the picture with his Senate Bill 560 on "Natural Gas Motor Fuel," which got its first reading March 5 in the Senate Transportation Committee.

The bill, if passed, would put natural gas on an equal footing at gas station pumps in the future.

Wilson talked on the phone Monday with Simpson's staff. The bill is going through changes, Wilson reported Wednesday, "but I am sure it will benefit anyone who is interested in CNG in Florida."

"Commissioner Wilson expressed his support of the legislation and his commitment to working at the county level to make this fuel source more prevalent," Rachel Perrin Rogers, Simpson's legislative assistant, wrote in a message Wednesday.

"We discussed working together with (Pasco School Superintendent Kurt) Browning on the issue as the school system has many vehicles that could benefit," Rogers continued.

"Currently, the bill provides that local governments would be permanently exempt from paying fuel tax on CNG," Rogers said. Simpson and colleagues are examining other incentives toward converting vehicles.

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