With gasoline prices approaching $4 a gallon, a local business and an energy company are considering offering natural gas as an alternative.
Peninsula Energy Services, of Winter Haven, and Sebring Gas Systems Corp. are assessing the profitability of a natural gas filling station on State Road 66, about a quarter mile off U.S. 27, said Bill Hancock, assistant vice president of Peninsula.
With increasing numbers of truck fleets converting to natural gas, the U.S. 27 corridor is becoming a "lucrative market" for the alternative fuel, Hancock said. The reason for the conversions is that the cost of natural gas is equivalent to $2.19 per gallon of gasoline, he said.
Currently, the closest such natural gas facility is in Clearwater, said Jerry Melendy, owner of Sebring Gas.
Bill Hancock, vice president of PESCO, said they should know within three months whether such a venture would be profitable. One consideration is whether the owners of truck fleets with natural-gas-powered trucks would agree to buy it from the station, he said.
PESCO would build the station and Sebring Gas Systems would provide the natural gas for the station.
About the only difference customers would experience from buying gasoline is that in natural gas stations, the "end of the hose twists onto the tank," Hancock said. That prevents the gas from escaping, he said.
Concerns that cars fueled with natural gas would be more likely to explode aren't warranted, Hancock said.
Natural gas dissipates quicker because it's lighter than air, he said, adding that the temperatures have to be higher for natural gas to explode than for gasoline.
Another advantage of natural gas is it's a greener way of fueling a car, he said. Natural gas provides much cleaner emissions.
While truck fleets use natural gas, there's also the potential for school buses, law enforcement patrol cars, garbage trucks and privately owned cars, Hancock said.
Scott Noethlich, Sebring's city administrator, said he believes there's a potential for the city to have its sanitation trucks converted if the city retains the service, as opposed to hiring a private company.
Hancock said some dealerships sell natural-gas-powered vehicles, hybrid-type cars that run on both gasoline and natural gas or can arrange for cars to be retrofitted to accept natural gas.
Natural-gas-powered cars also would "help us get off of our dependence on foreign oil," Melendy said. The United States has more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil, he said.
The station could be opened by the end of this year, Hancock said.