Drivers of natural gas vehicles paying 64 cents a gallon

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John Hollenhorst reportingA Draper man figures he's saving close to $3,000 a year on gasoline, and that's more than he paid to buy his SUV! It's not some futuristic vehicle; it's a modified Ford Explorer being used for typical commuting. The secret is natural gas.

In the world of commuting, Robert Macfarlane has found the sweet spot. His used Ford Explorer was a heck of a deal. "I purchased it for $4,500 and then there's a Utah tax credit of $2,500. So my net cost was about $2,000," he said.

He figures he'll save $2,600 a year because his gas costs only 64 cents a gallon. The previous owner modified the Explorer to burn natural gas. "It's great. I think it would be great for more people to know about it, to know that there's an alternative to going and paying $4 a gallon," Macfarlane said.

At the same gas pump, we found Diane Fenn. Her husband commutes 120 miles day, and she can fill her car up for $5 or so. She says, "Well it's nice at the pump to not be paying 40, 50 bucks a fill-up."

Questar sells compressed natural gas to roughly 5,000 drivers in Utah. Darren Shepherd, a spokesman for Questar, said, "It is catching on. In fact, it's catching on too fast right now."

There are only 19 public filling stations in the state. Questar hopes the private sector will jump in and build more stations to meet skyrocketing demand.

"Everything has doubled in the last year, and it's very difficult to keep up with that right now," Shepherd said.

You can buy a small compressor unit to hook up to your natural gas line at home, but it will run you about $4,000.

Utah is lucky. Natural gas here costs about one-third what it costs in the rest of the country, but Questar has applied for substantial rate increases. Natural gas is on its way up, just like gasoline.

"Right now it's one-sixth the price, and so even if it increases at a slightly higher rate, I think the margin and the differential will be in my favor," Macfarlane said. His fuel saves time, too. A natural gas decal qualifies him to drive by himself in the HOV lanes.

Questar expects the cost for natural gas to rise over a dollar a gallon later this year.

Many fleet vehicles in Utah have their own natural gas filling stations.


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