By Atlanta Business Chronicle

The Georgia Public Service Commission should limit a proposed alternative fuels initiative involving compressed natural gas to commercial vehicle fleets, the agencyâ¿¿s staff recommended Thursday.

Atlanta Gas Light Co. is asking the PSC for $11.7 million from the utility-financed Universal Service Fund as seed capital for a network of CNG fueling stations that would sell both to businesses with natural gas-fueled vehicle fleets and individuals with cars that use CNG.

Limiting the program to commercial vehicle fleets would be a more financially viable way to introduce CNG to the Georgia market, Tony Wackerly of the PSC staff told commissioners during a hearing. If such a limited launch were to prove successful, it could be expanded to retail sales to individual customers later, he said.

But David Weaver, AGLâ¿¿s managing director of regulatory affairs, said car owners interested in joining the move to less expensive, cleaner-burning CNG deserve access to a technology that is gaining momentum in other states, including North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Texas.

In fact, AGLâ¿¿s proposal includes putting part of the proceeds from the new CNG stations toward a home refueling program that would lease CNG equipment to homeowners for $50 to $60 a month.

⿿The movement of this market is going to be driven by fleets,⿝ Weaver conceded. ⿿But why split the baby? Give the public access to it from day one.⿝

Weaverâ¿¿s position drew support from commissioners Doug Everett and Tim Echols, who drives a CNG-fueled car.

⿿If we launch this and make sure the public has access to this, I think we⿿re going to get broader buy-in,⿝ Echols said.

But Commissioner Chuck Eaton said CNG technology is still in its infancy and, thus, too risky to justify a massive government subsidy extending beyond commercial vehicle fleets.

⿿Why not just let [restricting the program to commercial fleets] play out, the low-hanging fruit?⿝ he asked. ⿿If that becomes a success, look at [expanding it to individual customers].⿝

If the plan is approved, AGL intends to build 10 to 15 CNG stations during the next five years in metro Atlanta and along major highway corridors across the state.

Stations would be owned and operated by private retailers who would be required to invest at least 50 percent of each stationâ¿¿s cost.

The PSC is scheduled to vote on the plan next week.

Copyright 2011 American City Business Journals

Copyright 2010