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Becky Bruce reportingNatural gas conversion for a car is hotter than ever in Utah, with regular unleaded gasoline about to hit $4 a gallon, by some estimates as soon as next week.
Financial planner and member of Utah Clean Cities, Randy Lieber, says there's a reason most of the places that do conversions to compressed natural gas (CNG) look kind of like a virtual traffic jam.
"Number one, we get a 50 cent a gallon tax excise credit, a tax credit from the federal government. We here in Utah pass on 30 cents of that to the consumer," he said.
Translation: It costs only about 64 cents a gallon to fill up with natural gas in Utah, where it could cost $1 or $2 more somewhere else.
The conversion itself isn't cheap. It costs anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000. But you can get a combined state and federal tax credit of $7,000 if you do it. And with a 16 gallon tank, filling up once a week at $4 a gallon would cost you more than $3,000 by the end of the year.
Lieber says there are almost 25 natural gas filling stations currently open to the public, and more than 90 including those open only to businesses or contractors. And he adds, they're spread all over the state. Utah Clean Cities distributes a pamphlet listing all the locations.
He also says if you're interested in seeing more natural gas filling stations open to the public, you should talk to the state Public Service Commission and your local legislator, because right now it's difficult for a business owner to open one.
Lieber warns consumers to be careful choosing a conversion kit or a mechanic to convert their vehicle. Not all conversion kits are EPA certified. Neither are all mechanics.
"The mechanics themselves are also required to have certification. Right now, that is not being policed very well. A lot of the groups out there are just jumping on the bandwagon and throwing them on," he said.
Lieber also says there's less risk of fire in a collision if the vehicles have compressed natural gas in the tank. The tank for a CNG vehicle is much thicker and made of steel, and therefore is less likely to puncture. He says engines using CNG last longer with less frequent oil changes, because they don't experience the same build-up of hydrocarbons and other byproducts of gasoline.