The Utah Public Service Commission's recent decision to increase the price of compressed natural gas for vehicles has drawn the ire of many alternative-fuel advocates, including former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.
The commission late last month issued an order that will increase the price of a gallon equivalent of compressed natural gas for vehicles by 79 percent by next summer. The order called for the hike to take place in two phases.
The first phase would increase the price of compressed natural gas to $1.14 per gallon beginning immediately, up from 80 cents last month. The second increase would come on July 1 and would push the price up to $1.43 per gallon.
Commission spokeswoman Julie Orchard said that the ruling came following lengthy talks regarding proposed changes in pricing between natural gas for residential use and natural-gas fuel designed for transportation. The order arose from a rate case that Questar had submitted in December of last year, when the utility had asked the commission to set separate rate structures for residential natural gas and compressed natural gas used for transportation fuel.
The company contended that residential and industrial customers were paying higher rates and unfairly "subsidizing" the price that natural-gas vehicle drivers were paying at the pump.
But Anderson on Friday called the commission's order "a perfect example of how decision-making bodies can come up with disastrous decisions because their scope is so narrow."
Anderson is the founder and executive director of Salt Lake City-based High Road for Human Rights, an advocacy group for issues such as climate change. He said that the Salt Lake Valley's poor air quality and over-dependence on foreign oil are major concerns that need to be considered of the utmost importance right now.
"Those issues should carry far more weight than the narrow interests that have apparently driven the Public Service Commission's decision," he said.
Increasing the price of compressed natural gas would deter people from making the switch to what would be the most environmentally friendly choice for vehicle transportation, Anderson said.
"It's absolutely insane that we're not incentivizing people in every possible way to drive natural-gas vehicles in this community," he said.
Jerry Pace of Sandy said he and about eight other natural-gas vehicle owners have filed formal grievance letters with the commission expressing their displeasure with the decision. They hope to convince the commission to reconsider the way it sets pricing for compressed natural gas, so that it will not have the same kind of price volatility that gasoline has had, he said.
After the commission released its order, Internet blogs were abuzz with comments from natural-gas vehicle advocates who expressed disappointment with the commission's decision. On CNG Chat.com, a blog created by natural-gas vehicle owner and advocate John Mitton of Utah County, one commenter said, "As I was awakened this morning by the wind and snow, I couldn't go back to sleep. Was the PSC CNG (compressed natural gas) price increase the death nail in the coffin of the CNG industry in Utah?"
Another commenter said: "If every home in the state of Utah has to pay $2 a month to subsidize my CNG vehicle, then so be it. The rest of my tax dollars are subsidizing someone else's pet projects. CNG is far too inconvenient to run if it is 10 cents less than gasoline."
Though most posts were in protest of the increase, not every one agreed with the criticism of the order.
"Current prices are heavily subsidized by Questar and the taxpayers," one writer said. "I've enjoyed the free lunch, but I don't feel entitled to it. Other people are paying for MY fuel. That's not right."
Salt Lake City resident and natural-gas vehicle owner Lee Shuster, who describes himself as a "concerned citizen advocate for clean air in Utah," told the Deseret News that he supports paying more for compressed natural gas, as long as the price is fair and at least "a little bit less than gasoline."
Even if keeping natural-gas prices lower requires some kind of mandated subsidy, the lower prices would have a positive long-term effect in contributing toward a decrease in pollution from transportation around the valley, he said.
E-mail: [email protected]