South Florida gas prices are heading up again after steadily declining since April. But Jeff Greene is hardly worried that higher gasoline prices will hurt his business.
In fact, it may even be a good thing for Greene’s bottom line.
The reason: Greene runs Fort Lauderdale-based Wise Gas Inc., which operates the region’s first and only compressed natural gas station open to the public. Since the station opened last summer, a gallon of pressurized natural gas has held steady at about $2.19 per gallon — one-third cheaper than regular gasoline.
Greene, who heads up the business with his wife Christine Slager-Greene, said Wise Gas has partnered with Hardy Brothers Inc. — owned by the fuel company Port Consolidated Inc. — for a second commercial station in Pompano Beach, which is now operating under a temporary permit for a limited number of customers.
The company is also working to build a half-dozen others around the state, including one in Miami he aims to open by year’s end. He said the demand for cheaper, eco-friendly fuel alternatives produced in the U.S. is rising and CNG fits the bill. As a result, he sees it as a growth industry for Florida.
“Christine and I got into the business in 2008 when gas prices spiked,” Greene said. “At that time, we found that the industry was in flux and there was a void that we could fill.”
Four years ago, CNG was virtually unheard of.
“Nobody even knew what it was,” Greene said. “Now it’s getting more and more popular. Our traffic is up, phone calls are up and our sales are up. We’re averaging about a 500 percent increase in sales each year.”
Many drivers are likely still unfamiliar with compressed natural gas, which is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas, comprised mostly of methane, that’s extracted from underground reservoirs — sometimes at depths approaching 25,000 feet — through domestic natural gas wells drilled in geological formations across the nation or in conjunction with crude oil or other fossil fuel production. Think of CNG like a propane tank for a gas grill: A sealed pump transfers the gas from the station to tanks in your car.
Today, Wise Gas has more than three dozen regular customers and his client base is growing by about five new users per month. The Fort Lauderdale station handles about 100 South Florida transactions per week — selling the equivalent of about 6,000 gallons of gas per month.
The company, which employs seven people and relies on a variety of independent contractors, opened a Clearwater CNG facility in October 2011 that fuels fleet vehicles for Verizon and Clearwater Waste Management and operates two private stations for city vehicles in Apopka and Palatka.
In addition, the company offers consulting services, conducts feasibility studies for public agencies looking to open their own CNG stations and contracts for conversions of conventional combustion engines into dual-fuel vehicles that can run on both regular gas and CNG.
Most Wise Gas customers are commercial or municipalities that use fleet CNG vehicles, including AT&T Inc. (the private fuel company’s biggest client), along with some South Florida motorists who use personal CNG vehicles. But with energy analysts projecting the market to grow for CNG, Greene expects his company will expand in the years ahead.