DeBartolo to join alternative-fuel project

Staff report


Real-estate company DeBartolo Development will join efforts across the country to establish 1,000 compressed natural-gas fueling stations during the next three years.

As first announced in July, DeBartolo, based in Tampa., Fla., will partner with the Florida-based real-estate investment company Keystone Consulting Group and Peake Fuel Solutions, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy, to identify the best locations for the fueling stations.

Compressed natural gas is drawing more attention from consumers, automakers and developers because it currently costs about half of its gasoline-gallon equivalent, priced anywhere from $1.50 to $2 lower. It also produces 60 percent to 90 percent less smog-producing pollutants, compared with conventional fuels, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“At this point, the partnership with Chesapeake Energy and DeBartolo Development is in the early stages, and we are exploring the viability of the project,” wrote DeBartolo spokeswoman Valerie Panou in an email.

DeBartolo Development has offices in Youngstown. The company is looking into station locations in six states: Florida, West Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and California.

A pilot project with 10 stations is expected to launch development into full swing.

In July, Westlake-based TravelCenters of America LLC announced similar plans to construct 100 liquefied natural-gas plants in 41 states, and Giant Eagle has announced plans to expand its CNG offerings in Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio.

A number of municipalities across the country also have installed CNG and liquefied natural-gas stations to fuel their fleets.

The companies said they see a growing demand for the fuels as more heavy- freight carriers are converting their fleets to one or the other in order to reduce their long-haul costs.

Still, the cost of such fueling stations remains high compared with gas stations, and in 2011, the DOE estimated there were only 117,000 natural-gas vehicles in the U.S.

For now, DeBartolo will consider major investments at locations along interstate highways. The pilot project is expected to help the companies involved determine the best way to offer CNG fueling stations across the country.

No time line for the project has been set, but DeBartolo will provide funding for the stations and act as the chief developer, while Keystone will find and develop opportunities.

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