Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (CLNE) is poised to be a major benefactor of President Obama's focus on promoting domestically produced alternative energy sources. At a January visit to a UPS hub in Las Vegas, Obama touted America's 100-year supply of natural gas and laid out three important steps necessary to reduce American's dependence on foreign fuel: get more natural gas vehicles on the road, provide tax incentives to help companies buy more clean trucks, and make sure all of the trucks running on natural gas have a place to refuel.
It seems as if famed oilman and Clean Energy founder T. Boone Pickens might finally be making real inroads toward achieving a portion of his Pickens Plan, which promotes a radical reduction in the United States' dependency on foreign energy -- particularly oil provided by OPEC nations. A major component of the plan is the conversion of America's commercial transport sector away from OPEC diesel to natural gas. At the end of Q2, Clean Energy operated 313 natural gas fueling stations in 29 states across the U.S. This number is set to increase rapidly as the company continues to develop America's Natural Gas Highway (ANGH), a backbone network of 150 LNG fueling stations that will enable goods movement coast-to-coast and border-to-border (click here for video of the ANGH LNG station in Las Vegas). Aided by a strategic agreement with Pilot Travel Centers to build, own, and operate natural gas fueling facilities at agreed-upon Pilot Flying J locations, Clean Energy plans to have 70 of the 150 LNG fueling stations open by the end of 2012 in 33 states.
The main open question is how long it will take Clean Energy to develop enough stations to fuel up to 1 million-plus natural gas trucks expected to come online in the next couple of years. Engine manufacturers and original equipment truck manufacturers such as Cummins, Westport, Navistar, Kenworth, Peterbilt, Freightliner, and Caterpillar all plan to increase availability of trucks with new natural gas engines well suited for heavy-duty, over-the-road trucking in 2012 and 2013. Large players in the oil and gas space, such as Shell Oil, have announced plans to develop their own LNG fueling stations to meet this increased demand. Any speed bump in the development of Clean Energy's "Road to Natural Gas" could open the door for companies with deeper pockets to gain traction and challenge its market position.
Clean Energy is the type of speculative company that can make a fantastic long-term investment for someone with a long time horizon and low aversion to risk. It is worth noting that a Romney White House could delay the transition to natural gas for transport vehicles.