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State approves $11.5M to build natural gas stations

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Public Service Commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday to allow Atlanta Gas Light to spend $11.5 million collected in part from its industrial customers to finance the construction of new compressed natural gas pumps for fueling stations around the state.

Atlanta Gas Light executives said the program is necessary to seed a market for compressed natural gas vehicles by removing a barrier to driving them: a lack of publicly accessible gas stations. Of the roughly 20 stations that sell compressed natural gas, most are owned by private companies or governments and closed to the general public.

One company that already sells the gas opposed the idea, arguing that allowing a regulated utility to spend its customers' money to finance the program would discourage private investors from building their own pumps. By law, the state's elected utility commissioners could have used those same funds to expand natural gas pipelines, give emergency energy assistance to the poor or provide rebates to the utility's commercial and residential customers.

Commissioners didn't go along with a staff recommendation calling for a scaled-back proposal.