Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., the company you pay to heat your home and light your office, wants to power your company truck, too.
Officials at the utility said yesterday that they will start building natural-gas filling stations in the Baltimore area and will try to convince companies to switch from gasoline-powered vans and trucks to vehicles that run on compressed natural gas.
The federal Clean Air Act Amendments passed in 1990 require companies that maintain fleets of more than 10 vehicles to start phasing in alternative-fuel cars by 1998. BG&E officials said yesterday natural-gas vehicles put out only 20 percent of the ozone-producing pollutants, 50 percent of the deadly carbon monoxide and 75 percent of the acid rain ingredients that gasoline vehicles do.
In addition, Ellis "Wes" Woessner, head of marketing for BG&E's natural-gas vehicle project, said, the natural-gas cars cost less to run and are easier to maintain.
But, he conceded, they have short ranges, needing fill-ups every 175 miles and can have a little less power than gasoline-powered vehicles.
Sometime this month, BG&E plans to ask the state for permission to sell compressed natural gas, he said. It would cost about 80 cents for the same energy provided by one gallon of gasoline, he said.
Mr. Woessner said that the company hopes to keep its prices about 30 percent lower than those at gasoline pumps.
Those plans have some consumer representatives upset.
Paul Buckley, an attorney in the Office of the People's Counsel, said yesterday that while he supports experimentation with alternative fuels, BG&E is planning to charge lower-than-market rates to its vehicle customers. And that means other natural gas customers will be subsidizing the new program for at least six years, he said.
"This whole enterprise is a loser," Mr. Buckley said. He argued that if natural gas were such a cost-effective fuel, companies would have switched to it long ago.
The People's Counsel is an attorney hired by the state to represent consumers.
BG&E, which has been trying out about 20 natural-gas-powered vehicles for a year, said its experiments are proving the technology is cost-effective.
For the next five years, BG&E will buy 100 natural-gas trucks and vans a year for its own use, Mr. Woessner said.
By the middle of the decade, BG&E hopes to have 500 natural-gas vehicles, making up about 20 percent of the company's fleet, and 20 filling stations in the region. The stations will cost about $300,000 each to build, he said.
By the end of the decade, the company hopes to have at least 3,000 other trucks and vans filling up regularly at BG&E stations, Mr. Woessner said.
The company is focusing on trucks and vans at first because of the problems of adding special natural-gas tanks to vehicles equipped with gasoline tanks.
Converting a regular car to natural gas costs about $2,500 and takes up a lot of trunk space, Mr. Woessner said.
Although General Motors Corp. and other carmakers are beginning to produce natural-gas vehicles, many companies, including BG&E, have converted gasoline-powered vehicles themselves.
The BG&E announcement comes a few weeks after Washington Gas Light Co., the utility that serves the District of Columbia and its Maryland suburbs, won permission to start selling natural gas to the public from filling stations.
Lynn Scruggs, a Washington Gas Light spokeswoman, said yesterday that her company has filling stations in Rockville, Forestville and Chillum and hasn't decided whether to build any more.
Washington Gas Light runs about 250 natural-gas vehicles and has started marketing natural gas to fleet owners. But individuals who want to hire a mechanic to convert their cars to use natural gas will be able to fill up at the stations, she said.
BG&E's announcement came at a news conference at which company officials revealed plans to expand conservation programs to include rebates to appliance buyers, incentives for homebuilders and assistance for businesses.
BG&E is negotiating the details of several new conservation programs with regulators, consumer representatives and environmentalists. Company officials said that they plan to start the new programs early next year.