FRAMINGHAM, MATowns have begun applying to the recently unveiled state program that uses federal stimulus money to spur them to buy more hybrid vehicles, according to The MetroWest Daily News.

Tucked in the stimulus bill is $300 million for towns and public agencies, as well as private companies, to cover the cost difference between a hybrid and its traditional model. State energy officials say they expect to receive between $5 million and $15 million of it to distribute locally.

The program complements the Department of Energy Resources' push to have towns think seriously about their energy use. Many towns, though, are paring their capital spending plans because of budget shortfalls, which could limit interest, because they still pay the majority of a hybrid's cost.

The program, in addition to covering passenger cars, also applies to heavy-duty utility trucks and buses. Manufacturers of hybrid heavy-duty trucks, which have only recently become easily available, are already touting the federal stimulus money on their Web sites.

Besides the hybrid engine used in cars such as the Toyota Prius, the program includes ones powered by compressed natural gas, propane, biofuels and fuel cells, plug-ins, and diesels that meet new emissions standards.

State officials said the amount of money Massachusetts receives ultimately depends on the number of commitments they get from towns and companies to buy hybrids. The applications to the state are due by May 18.

In Marlborough, Public Works Commissioner Ronald M. LaFreniere said one of his deputies is already working on applications. He said the cost difference has been the hurdle to purchasing more hybrid models than the two the city now owns.

"With the stimulus assistance, that argument, locally at least, can be put to rest," LaFreniere said. He added he has another application pending to buy four other hybrid cars through a similar state program.

Fred Davies, who manages Framingham public works' fleet and facilities, said he also has an application pending with state officials for a heavy-duty hybrid diesel to use for sewer inspections. That hybrid costs about $35,000 more than the traditionally powered model, he said. Davies plans to use the federal stimulus bill to buy a third hybrid Ford Escape for the department.

Ed Carr, the MetroWest Regional Transit Authority's administrator, said he wants to add hybrid models in the future. However, he said his gasoline-powered fleet of 22 minibuses is too small now and managing different models would be too unwieldy as the bus service develops.