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Free-market competition is critical to advancing natural gas vehicles in Utah, say many of the businesses, agencies and advocates who spoke Wednesday to the Utah Public Service Commission.

"The best way to ensure the sustainability of this as an industry … is to allow a more robust market to develop," said Michele Beck, director of the Utah Committee on Consumer Services.

Her comments were echoed in opening statements to the Public Service Commission's probe of ways Utah can promote alternative fuel vehicles to reduce smog. Others commenting included Questar, which already operates about half of the 66 natural gas fueling stations in the state, the Utah Division of Public Utilities and Blu, a company that competes with Questar in the natural-gas fueling market.

Wednesday's meeting, along with a public-testimony session planned for Thursday afternoon, is aimed at guiding how to implement SB275, a measure passed by state lawmakers during the 2013 General Session. Though the bill was intended as a way to use natural gas in more cars and trucks, many weighing in on the issue say lawmakers should also be including incentives for electric vehicles as part of the air-pollution solution.

"I think this is a case where multiple solutions can really lead to improvement," said Beck, who urged the commission to find the biggest bang for the buck — wherever that might come from — when it comes to dealing with air pollution.

Natural-gas competitors are not the only ones concerned about the current focus on helping Questar provide more natural gas vehicle service. Consumer advocates worry that gas ratepayers who won't benefit from the lower-cost fuel will be asked to foot the bill through their rates.

The commission is expected to provide a report to the Legislature by the end of September.

Twitter: @judyfutah

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