"And I added associated infrastructure; we've expanded the program to include incentives on the Phill home CNG refueling unit," he says. "CalTrans again balked at that, saying it only benefits the homeowner, but I said, 'Different situation here, folks.'
"I didn't want our city employees to be excluded from this program, but some of them don't live here in Vacaville," he explains. "So, our program eligibility is for anyone who lives, and works, in Vacaville, Dixon or Rio Vista, the next towns over. We have the only public 24/7 CNG filling station in the county. Dixon and Rio Vista don't have them, and we can't expect people to come all the way to Vacaville to refuel. If we could give them a break on a home refueling unit from Fuelmaker in Toronto, they'll be more likely to get a car. Now, the car provides a public benefit, and CalTrans signed off on that."
Now, anyone who lives or works in Vacaville can apply for the CNG program. If they qualify, they can get a Honda Civix GX, regularly listing at $25,225, for $9,000 less (as of June, 2008), the same as a gasoline powered Civic. The incentive package consists of a $4,000 federal tax credit, a $3,000 state rebate, $1,000 from the City of Vacaville, and a $1,000 incentive from the local Honda dealer (which, up until the time Huestis informed them, didn't even know that Honda sold a natural gas model).
In addition, as of June, 2008, buyers can also get a $1,000 federal tax credit and a $2,000 incentive from Huestis' program to buy and install a Phill CNG home fueling station, which would normally cost as much as $7,000.
REAPING THE REWARDS
Both the city and its residents are benefitting from operating CNG vehicles.
The city benefits from a 50 cents-per-gallon-equivalent refund on all the natural gas they use in their CNG Civics, vans, pickups and transit buses. Private owners who commute to Sacramento or the San Francisco Bay area can drive in High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, cutting travel time considerably, and those going to San Francisco are exempt from paying bridge tolls. Huestis sees it as a qulity of life issue; people who can commute home in the HOV lanes can make it home in time to have dinner with their families.
"There are people on the freeway right now who are trapped, and I feel sorry for them," he says. "They can't get out of their commute; transit doesn't always work for them. I had one gal come in who's driving a Chevy Tahoe 40 miles up to Sacramento and back by herself, getting 15 miles per gallon, paying 30 cents a mile; that's $30 to get to work and back! And she's tried out the CNG program and she's on the waiting list to get a car.
"It's hurting these people, and it's not so much the price per gallon," he insists. "What I'm finding out is, when it gets up to a point where it costs $70 or $80 to fill up the car, and they've got a credit card that's only authorized for $50, and it stops at that magic dollar amount, people start to say 'This is ridiculous. This is too much.' So they're looking for alternatives, but they don't know what they are. So we're doing all we can to get the word out."
THE FUTURE OF FUEL
Although there has been a lull in the availability of electric on-highway vehicles, Huestis is getting ready for new models that will be appearing in the 2010-2012 timeframe. He is using his program money to install 110V outlets on all existing charging stations, to get ready for plug-in hybrids, and he is hoping that new electric on-highway vehicles from Miles and Tesla will soon be lining up to use the city's existing charging stations.
Meanwhile, he spends a lot of his time visiting other fleets, telling them how they, too, can operate on less gasoline than they're using now.
"Most cities are not going to be able to take this on on their own," he says. "Everyone's tight right now with their budget, so they're not going to be able to have a bucket of money just sitting there for a program like this. They're going to have to go out and find out where they can get that money. It is available, in California, or anywhere there are air quality issues, and it's directly applicable to this type of program. But what you find is that the people who would like to do something like this are not the same ones who deal with the grant monies.