In the often-challenging arena of finding and keeping qualified technicians, the added alternative-fuels component certainly raises the bar. Sure, a tech may think he or she can handle working on a vehicle converted to compressed natural gas (CNG), but how can a fleet manager be certain?

Getting Certified
Since 1990, the state of Oklahoma has had a Committee of Alternative Fuels Technician Examiners, which offers regular testing and certificates to those working with CNG, liquid propane gas (LPG), and electric engines. It’s all about “protecting the integrity of the industry,” said Brandy Winget, alternative fuels program administrator.

Even though the number of conversion kits in use across the state has decreased due to OEM alternative-fuel engines, testing remains an important component. Some 252 technicians are currently certified throughout the state and 27 businesses are certified for maintaining equipment using alternative fuels. Tests cost $50, and certificates are renewable for $50 each year.

“Right now, there are actually only three businesses that could do conversions for vehicles,” said Winget. “The others, for the most part, are forklift companies. We have a lot of manufacturing companies here, and they’ll either buy vehicles ready-made or go through the conversions. But, businesses must be up-to-snuff like anyone else and have the same knowledge as someone converting an Impala or F-250.”

Providing an Alt-Fuel Infrastructure
Before you consider Oklahoma a national leader in alternative-fuel use, keep in mind the state’s fleet has only 32 vehicles that can take LPG or CNG. At the same time, interest in flex-fuel vehicles, which run on either gasoline or ethanol, has increased.

“The weak point there is that there are only three sites in Oklahoma in which E-85 or ethanol can be obtained, ”Winget said. “It’s readily available all over Missouri, a connecting state, because they grow and distill their own. But by 2008, we’ll be producing our own, too.”

Even when that happens, however, Winget doesn’t see any impact on the certification program for CNG and LPG. The federal EPAct regulation mandates that 75 percent of all replacement vehicles in government fleets must be at least alternative-fuel capable.

Obtaining Tax Credits
LPG and CNG remain inexpensive alternatives to gasoline. CNG is approximately $1.21 per gas gallon equivalent and LPG $1.95. Those outside government who use the fuels also qualify for tax credits.

Winget admits that conversion kits are much less popular and available than in the past, and one of the reasons is the expense. An LPG total conversion currently costs $4,000-$5,000, she said, and a CNG total conversion goes for $9,000.

“But the tax credits available are wonderful,” she said. “If you spend $9,000 to convert your vehicle to natural gas, either bi-fuel or dedicated, you can take a 50-percent tax credit based over a period of three years.”

Click here to see the article