Alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) offer advantages over traditional liquid petroleum-based fuels that should resonate with consumers. AFVs operate on fuels that are produced, not simply refined, domestically and often are produced right here in the Pennsylvania.
Types of Alternative Fuels
Common alternative fuels for transportation include:
- Natural gas
- Bio-based fuels, such as biodiesel and ethanol
Use of such alternative fuels delivers positive economic benefits to consumers, helps to reduce emissions of certain air pollutants, and helps strengthen national security by reducing dependency on foreign-sourced petroleum.
Of the various alternative fuels, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) encourages the use of electricity and natural gas for transportation use, primarily because it regulates the distribution of these two fuels. Additionally, these two fuels have made significant strides in Pennsylvania in recent years.
Natural Gas Vehicles
Numerous natural gas vehicle (NGV) refueling stations have opened in the state in the past several years. This is primarily due to Pennsylvania’s abundant natural gas resources and favorable costs (as compared to gasoline and diesel fuel). NGVs include both compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles and the less common liquified natural gas (LNG) vehicles that are limited to heavy-duty long-haul vehicles. NGV fueling stations are predominantly supporting larger, commercial fleet vehicles, but many are also available for refueling personal vehicles.
For passenger vehicles, the automotive industry is heavily focused on electric vehicles (EVs). For instance, Chevy has committed to offering more than 20 electric vehicle models by 2023 and Ford is committing $900 million through 2023 to revamp production facilities for an increasing electric vehicle lineup.
Despite the focus of major automakers on EVs, natural gas still plays a key role in our state. In Pennsylvania, much of the electricity that will be used to power EVs will actually be generated from natural gas.
EVs, which include both plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery-only electric vehicles (BEVs), are much less expensive to operate than their gasoline or diesel-powered counterparts.
Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles
PHEVs have the ability to use battery-stored electricity for short-range operations. The vehicles can also use the gasoline engine for the remainder of operations until the battery is sufficiently recharged.
Battery-Only Electric Vehicles
BEVs operate solely on electricity stored within the batteries. As battery technology has continued to evolve, the driving range of BEVs has expanded significantly in the last few years. Several BEVs boast ranges well over 200 miles before requiring recharging.
PUC Policy on Public EV Charging Stations
To keep pace with growing consumer interest and demand for EVs, many organizations have sought to develop publicly accessible EV charging stations. In doing so, some had questioned whether providing electricity to consumers via these charging stations would mean the provider is an electric utility. To clarify the issue and help further foster the deployment of EV charging stations and sales of EVs in the Commonwealth, in November 2018, the PUC issued a policy statement. The PUC clarified that the sale of electricity at EV charging stations does not constitute a public utility but also further requires that any entity seeking to install a publicly accessible EV charging station must notify the electric distribution company serving that area, well in advance of the expected installation, subject to the terms of tariff of the respective electric distribution company.
PUC-Funded Alternative Fuel Vehicle Programs
Subject to taking this action, in December 2018, the PUC approved a pilot project submitted by PECO that will encourage the installation of Level 3 fast charging EV charging stations throughout PECO’s service territory. At that same time, the PUC approved a pilot program submitted by Duquesne Light Company (Duquesne), that will encourage the deployment of EV charging stations broadly. Specifically, it will partner with the Port Authority of Allegheny to deploy fast EV charging stations in support of the Port Authority’s transit bus fleet and provide consumer education about EVs. It will also offer incentives for consumers to notify Duquesne of their purchase of EVs. This will allow Duquesne to better understand where they can expect to see increased electric load growth.
AFV Programs Across the State
Within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, multiple agencies have supported the deployment of NGV fueling stations and EV charging stations. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) deployed numerous stations for both fuels through the Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Program and with the use of settlement funds from the Volkswagen litigation.
Additionally, an initiative of the DEP called the Drive Electric Pennsylvania Coalition has put together a diverse stakeholder group of state and local government agencies, electric utilities, auto manufacturers, EV charging infrastructure manufacturers, alternative fuels and clean energy advocates, and others. The group focuses on moving EV transportation in Pennsylvania forward. It prepared a “Pennsylvania Electric Vehicle Roadmap,” that discusses the needs and targets for the increased adoption of EVs in the Commonwealth.
The Department of Community and Economic Development’s Commonwealth Finance Authority provides funds for NGV fueling stations through its Alternative and Clean Energy Program.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration, is adding signage to specific highways in Pennsylvania that will be designated as “Alternative Fuel Corridors”. The signage is intended to inform motorists of the opportunity and availability to travel throughout the state and country using alternative fuels, such as natural gas and electricity.
Learn More About AFVs
For more information on AFVs, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC). To find locations of natural gas fueling stations or public EV charging stations, go the AFDC station map.
You can also visit the Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities and the websites. These two entities work to promote all alternative fuels and are funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program.
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