Energy | Transportation | Ecotrope

This Woman Converted Her SUV To Natural Gas

Ecotrope | Aug. 14, 2012 12:15 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:30 p.m.

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With so few public compressed natural gas fueling stations in Oregon, it's no wonder more people don't convert their cars over to CNG – even though it is much cheaper than gasoline right now.

With so few public compressed natural gas fueling stations in Oregon, it's no wonder more people don't convert their cars over to CNG – even though it is much cheaper than gasoline right now.

Kris Ransom works for a natural gas company. So, she has a vested interest in seeing CNG cars on the road.

But not everyone who works at Avista converts their personal cars to run on compressed natural gas.

I found Ransom through the Rogue Valley Transportation District in Medford, which has one of only a couple public CNG fueling station in Oregon, according to district manager Julie Brown.

Natural gas is a clean-burning alternative to other fuels. I recently learned that a lot of truck fleets – particularly garbage haulers – are switching to cheaper natural gas fuel. But they all have their own private fueling stations. So, I had to ask: Who are these people driving around in passenger cars that run on compressed natural gas?

Ransom lives in Klamath Falls and usually fills up at Avista’s private fueling station. But she does occasionally fill up at the Rogue Valley Transportation CNG station.

A handful of Californian drivers stop in, too, Brown told me. But many of them are towed into the station after failing to find fuel closer to home.

At first, Ransom discussed getting a company car that would run on CNG. But she already had two cars of her own at home and didn’t want a third.

“I wanted one that would be mine,” she said. “I was due for a new rig.”

Ransom found a low-mileage 2010 GMC Yukon and paid a Salt Lake City company called Questar around $10,000 in April to convert it to dual fuel so it runs on either compressed natural gas or gasoline. She gave up some seating in the back of the rig to make room for the largest CNG tank possible.

“With limited fueling infrastructure, you really need to have bi-fuel capability,” she said. “I live in Klamath Falls and work in Roseburg, and I have to travel around quite a bit.”

Ransom said the mileage on the vehicle is the same with CNG as it is with gasoline, but there is a different way of measuring performance.

The cost of filling up her tank with CNG is $1.74 per gas gallon equivalent, compared with $3.50-4 a gallon for gasoline. Natural gas is measured in british thermal units, which confuses the comparison between the two fuels.

“If I bought 10 gallons of gasoline, I would need 12.3 therms of natural gas to be equal,” said Ransom. I still get 20 miles per gas gallon equivalent.”

Now that she can fill up with CNG, she said, she rarely pays for gasoline.

“I only buy gasoline when I’m going out of town and run out of CNG,” she said. “I bet I haven’t purchased six tanks of gasoline since April. It’s really worked out amazingly well.”

The fueling process is clean and easy, she said. And you really can’t tell the difference from the outside.

“It looks like any other big white GMC on the road,” Ransom said. “The only way you’d know something is different is a little diamond sticker on it that says CNG.”

She thinks given the current price of gas and the amount of driving she does that she will make her money back in three years.

I drive a lot,” she said. “I’m out in the field a lot. For work I cover Medford, Roseburg, and Klamath Falls. I put 25,000 to 30,000 miles on my vehicle a year.”

Ransom is a big proponent of driving on CNG and thinks more people will make the switch over the next few years as the price of natural gas stays low.

“I do have a vested interest,” she said. “But I think it’s something people need to start learning about now as public fueling infrastructure becomes available.”

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