Parked at Garfield Circle within eyeshot of the US Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, a Humvee sporting the slogan, “Cleaner, Cheaper And a Lot More Fun!” wasn’t attracting much attention despite the enthusiasm of its owners, Murry and Cindy Gerber, for the cause it represents.
“Cindy and I are trying to take the vision to another level,” Murry Gerber said of his push to get the majority of Americans driving natural gas vehicles. “We are trying to take the vision beyond vehicle fleets and return to base vehicles. Everybody thinks we are nuts, but I don’t think we are nuts. You have to start with the end in mind. For us, the end in mind is all Americans can take advantage of natural gas for driving.”
Before he became an outspoken advocate for NGVs, Gerber was the chairman of EQT, a Pittsburgh-based utility company that is also active in developing Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas reserves. Since his retirement last year, he has been focused on his NGV campaign — which has taken root as gasoline prices have spiked above $4/gallon.
The Gerbers began a cross-country promotional tour in Santa Monica, California, on April 28, and will wrap it up this week in New York City. Along the way, they talked up the value of NGV passenger cars. They also gave a dozen schools $2,500 grants to support science education.
Cindy Gerber observed that at several stops the couple learned that local school districts and taxi companies were among the first to invest in NGVs. “People started to see that having the school buses or the taxis or municipal buses using natural gas made sense,” she said.
Murry Gerber said he supports the NAT GAS Act of 2011, which would create five-year tax incentives for companies that buy NGVs and build refueling stations (GD 4/7). The bill is intended to encourage companies and municipalities to use natural gas to power their vehicle fleets, but the Gerbers believe that ultimately the scope should be much broader.
He is driving a Humvee H3T powered by compressed natural gas. The vehicle isn’t made any more, but he said he and Cindy selected it because “it is the quintessential ‘dirty’ car that is cleaner than a smart car.”
His wife created the accompanying slogan, he said, because “with natural gas, you can drive what you want and feel good about it.”
Based on the research he’s done, the country needs at least 1,000 more NGV fueling stations to realize his vision of an NGV nation. “That would get people excited enough about the difference in price to start demanding more NGVs,” he predicted. “That demand will accentuate more fueling stations.”
He noted that fueling stations are scarce in rural areas. It’s 350 miles between stations at Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Midland, Texas, and another 325 miles to the next station at Fort Worth.
In those areas, Gerber said a “utility model” — in which local distribution companies would build and operating fueling stations — might be the best way to go.
The cost of a station and its operations could be a part of the utility’s rate base, which would be charged to urban, suburban and rural customers alike. “I don’t want to pre-suppose that,” he said. “But even if we did that, it would mean an increase in people’s natural gas bills of about $10 year. These stations aren’t that expensive to build.”
“Just like in the old days, we didn’t have telephones in rural areas, or electricity,” he continued. “There has to be some subsidy from the urban to the rural. The logic for it would be urban users of natural gas vehicles could be able to go across their state and save the money associated with using natural gas. That is the quid pro quo.”
— Rodney White