WOODBINE — A California energy company is building Cape May County’s first public natural-gas station in Woodbine, adding to the region’s availability for the alternate fuel that already is outpacing that of private natural gas cars.

The Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority this month chose Clean Energy, based in Newport Beach, Calif., to build and operate a new fueling station for vehicles that burn compressed natural gas.

The station will be built next to the Cape May County landfill on MUA property off Dennisville-Petersburg Road in Woodbine. The station will be open to the public, MUA Deputy Director John Baron said.

“It’s for use by anybody who wishes to use it, but it’s mostly targeted to waste-hauling trucks. These companies have been the most proactive in switching over to compressed natural gas,” he said.

Companies such as Waste Management Inc. and Blue Diamond Disposal have converted at least a portion of their truck fleets to natural gas, Baron said.

Natural gas is a cheaper fuel, at the moment, than diesel. And it burns more cleanly than diesel, he said.

The price for an amount of natural gas equivalent to a gallon of gasoline is $1.88 in Millville and $2.35 in Egg Harbor Township and Atlantic City.

Rossi Honda in Vineland sells a Honda Civic fueled by natural gas, owner Ron Rossi said.

“It has all the amenities of a normal Civic, from Bluetooth to rear-facing camera,” he said.

Refilling at the pump takes the same amount of time with natural gas as with gasoline. Some customers opt to refill at home, which can take longer but costs significantly less.

“If we could get all the fleets of buses and trucks to switch over, they would build more stations. And then cars would follow,” he said.

The Honda Civic was the first commercially available model that used compressed natural gas. But other car makers can retrofit cars or trucks to use this fuel, he said.

The MUA unanimously agreed to lease the land to Clean Energy for the company’s use in building and operating the new station, a project estimated to cost around $2 million.

“We didn’t want to be operators of such a station. But we believed in the program,” Baron said. “We decided to make it available if anyone wanted to build the station at the landfill.”

Clean Energy opened similar fueling stations in Atlantic County for use by waste haulers, Atlantic City and the Atlantic City Jitney Association, Regional Manager Mike Cecere said.

“It’s more convenient for fleets in South Jersey to transition from diesel to compressed natural gas,” he said. “This will be a similar-sized station.”

About 135,000 vehicles operate on natural gas in the United States, according to Natural Gas Vehicles for America, an industry trade group. Many of these vehicles rely on about 1,300 fueling stations across the country, not counting the home-fueling appliances that drivers can buy.

Clean Energy is building its stations based on existing, and prospective, demand, he said.

“We’ve done our homework. We know the fleets in the area. We have an idea of volume and future volume,” he said. “Trucks will be going to the landfill so it’s a good location to build a natural gas station.”

The station is expected to open later this year.

The New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, a nonprofit group that promotes the use of alternate fuels, is working with private companies to develop new filling stations that offer natural gas or battery recharging.

“We just finished a large grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build six compressed natural gas fueling stations and worked with a number of fleets across the state to transition them over,” coalition Director Chuck Feinberg said.

One group was the Atlantic City Jitney Association, which converted its 190 jitneys in 2010.

“Through that program, we’ve succeeded in raising awareness of natural gas as a transportation fuel. That’s why you’re seeing other facilities popping up,” Feinberg said.

His group’s last survey found 2,500 compressed natural gas vehicles driving New Jersey roads. Almost all of those are commercial trucks and buses, he said.

“It’s a much cleaner fuel, from an air-emissions perspective. A lot of trash trucks operate in urban areas, so there is a lot less pollution coming out of those vehicles,” he said.

Plus, these vehicles are noticeably quieter than diesel engines.

“Some people complain they don’t hear their trash trucks coming in the morning,” he said.

Feinberg said consumers will need a tipping point of stations to make compressed natural gas vehicles commercially viable, much like the stations need a reliable supply of customers. But people whose regular commutes include a nearby station are likely to consider these new options.

And automakers are offering consumers more alternatives. GM is producing bi-fuel options for its new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra that run both on gas and natural gas. These models give the trucks a combined-fuel range of 650 miles. The option adds $11,000 to the price of a new truck.

“It’s a rapidly changing landscape. You have to think about it. It’s not a slam dunk,” he said.

Contact Michael Miller:

609-272-7217

More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.