Dominican Republic turns to natural gas in energy crunch

A cab driver who plans ahead, Rafael Macario had his Toyota Camry rigged to run on three different kinds of fuel.

Gasoline is the most expensive, propane the most dangerous, and natural gas is his favorite. He is among a growing number of Dominicans banking on natural gas as not just a cleaner form of energy, but one that costs about a third of a gasoline fill-up.

“People are waiting for more pumps,” Macario said. “Right now, there are only two natural gas fueling stations in Santo Domingo, so you really have to plan your route.”

He likes the idea of a green energy, but says “objectively, honestly, it’s about the money.”

Natural gas sells at the equivalent of $32 a barrel, compared to $100 for oil. That’s about $1.91 a gallon in a country where premium gasoline costs more than $5 per gallon.

“That’s a huge difference in price,” said motorist Domingo Jimenez. “It wears down the motor less, is cheaper, and does less damage to the environment.’’

As the Dominican Republic continues to struggle to provide electricity to people’s homes on a consistent basis, the government last week announced bold plans to build natural gas fueling stations throughout the country and convert large automobile fleets to run on natural gas. Its hope is to make natural gas one of the biggest sources of energy for the country, which is plagued by frequent blackouts and a federal budget deficit.

Natural gas cars are equipped with a bright yellow 19-gallon gas tank in the trunk. Currently about 1,500 cars are using natural gas in the Dominican Republic, and officials estimate that number will double this year.

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