Would you pay $2.14 for a gallon of gas?
I know I would. According to AAA, the nationwide average for a gallon of gasoline is $3.80... Diesel is even more expensive at $4.06.
Yet despite high fuel costs across the country, a select group of drivers are paying only $2.14 a gallon... more than $1.50 below the national average.
What's the catch?
To be honest, there isn't one. These drivers aren't getting some "special deal," and this isn't some publicity stunt that's only available to a select few. They're simply filling up their tanks with a different kind of transportation fuel.
Let me explain...
During the past decade, new technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have unlocked waves of natural gas reserves that were previously thought inaccessible. As a result, gas prices have plummeted to below $3 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf)... well below the 10-year high of $10.79 hit in 2008.
With natural gas prices hovering near record lows, companies across the board are looking for ways to take advantage of the new cheap energy source... and who better to benefit than the transportation industry?
All over the nation, companies with heavy transportation costs are introducing vehicles that run off natural gas into their regular operations. Just last year, UPS added 48 trucks that run off natural gas to its shipping fleet, which brings the total number of vehicles in its fleet running on natural gas to 1,100.
Right now, the compressed natural gas (CNG) equivalent to a gallon of gasoline costs on average $2.14. With over 110,000 natural-gas vehicles already diving on U.S. roads -- and CNG prices roughly $1.50 per gallon cheaper than gasoline -- the number of CNG vehicles on the road is going nowhere but up.
But while there's ample incentive for truck owners to switch from diesel to CNG, there's still one big obstacle: lack of infrastructure.
After all, you wouldn't want to be on a lonely stretch of highway somewhere on the outskirts of Omaha running on 'E' without a CNG station in sight.
That's why Clean Energy Fuels (NYSE: CLNE) is in the middle of a bold initiative to install 150 natural gas-based fueling stations along the nation's most heavily traveled arteries.
Clean Energy Fuels operates an interesting business. It's one of the few companies focusing on putting natural gas fueling stations along America's busiest corridors.
Judging by the pace at which the company continues to land new customers, the plan appears to be working.
Since Clean Energy unveiled its plan earlier this year to add fueling stations to existing Pilot-Flying J truck stops in more than 30 states, the company has picked up no less than a dozen new accounts representing hundreds of trucks.
Here are a few of the recent wins:
Lancaster Foods -- Lancaster, the largest wholesale produce dealer in the Mid-Atlantic, has begun the transition to CNG-powered refrigerated trucks to make deliveries in the Washington D.C. area.
Saddle Creek -- This transportation and fulfillment firm, which delivers freight across the country, has signed a 10-year agreement with Clean Energy to build dedicated fueling stations to support the firm's growing fleet of gas-powered trucks.
Premier Transportation -- Premier delivers consumer products and other goods to department stores and retail chains in big cities. The company has agreed to use Clean Energy as its sole fuel supplier, with each of its trucks expected to use 15,000 gallons of CNG per year.
And this is just a small sample.
More and more of the nation's largest freight delivery firms are willing to at least test-drive CNG powered trucks. Some are making the full transition and converting their entire fleets.
And with fueling stations along the nation's busiest routes -- such as Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Dallas to Houston, and Chicago to Atlanta -- Clean Energy is well-positioned to maintain its dominant lead in the fuel market.
The company already fills up 25,000 vehicles at 300 locations each week -- and I fully expect that number to continue growing.
Risks to consider: Of course, with investing, nothing is 100% certain. If the price of natural gas rallies, it could be a deterrent for companies considering making the switch from traditional burning gasoline vehicles to those that run off CNGs.
Action to Take --> But seeing as America now has much natural gas as Saudi Arabia has oil, I think the trend of "cheap" natural gas is here to stay. And with the price of CNGs $1.50 less than equivalent gallon of gasoline... this looks like a huge opportunity for investors in Clean Energy Fuels.