Natural gas filling station expected to soon open in Grand Junction

It’s the missing link in a system that will enable vehicles powered by natural gas to be driven from Denver to Los Angeles. At the same time, it will enable some vehicles operated by the City of Grand Junction to run more inexpensively.

The city plans to open a natural gas fueling station by January, giving the city a means to fill some trash trucks and Grand Valley Transit buses with natural gas each night. The slow-fill pumps are aptly named, since it takes about six hours to fill a tank with natural gas. But the city also is constructing fast-fill pumps that can top a tank in as little as 10 minutes.

“The original plan was for the slow-fill component,” says Jay Valentine, assistant financial operations manager for the city. The slow-fill system can push more natural gas into a tank than can the fast-fill system. The slow-fill method also costs less, Valentine says.

But the potential to provide that missing link in the Denver-to-Los Angeles route prompted the city to plan for the fast-fill pumps as well. The city doesn’t plan to pay for operation of the fast-fill system over the long term.

“The plan is to turn this over to the private sector if there’s interest,”  Valentine says. While there’s not currently a high demand for natural gas pumps, the local situation presents a chicken-and-egg dilemma. There aren’t many natural gas vehicles in Grand Junction, but one reason could be the lack of a natural gas filling station. By first building the station, the city anticipates the number of natural gas vehicles to increase.

Under the current price structure, the city plans to save money by using compressed natural gas. For about $1.90, a car can travel as far on natural gas as it can on $2.50 worth of the diesel fuel, which is currently used in trash trucks.

“We think it’s economical and cleaner,” Valentine says.

It will still take awhile to recoup the cost of installing the natural gas station, but the funds came mostly from outside sources. The more than $1 million project was funded through a series of grants totaling more than $700,000 from the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, an Energy Community Block Grant and another national grant, Valentine said. Encana Oil and Gas contributed $150,000.

Many vehicles used by Encana in Garfield County run on either natural gas or gasoline. The firm needs hybrid vehicles because there aren’t any natural gas filling stations near some of the remote areas where Encana workers drive.

At a fast-fill station, the time it takes to top off a tank depends on how many vehicles are using pumps at the same time. Two dispensers, with two hoses each, can accommodate four vehicles. If all are filling at once, it takes about 20 minutes to fill,  Valentine says. If only two cars are at the pumps, it takes about 10 minutes each, he says.

Construction on the natural gas station began in October and the facility will look like a regular gas station when it’s finished, possibly in December.

Then it could be a matter of time before Grand Junction becomes an important fueling spot for people driving between Denver and the West Coast.

“We’ve had discussions with the private sector,” Valentine says.

Meanwhile, the city will provide a high-profile example of how natural gas can be used to power vehicles.