Mayor Jim Paine wasn’t paying lip service to converting the city’s fleet of vehicles to environmentally friendly models during his State of the City address May 27.
Work has begun to explore the city’s options for replacing gas-powered vehicles with electric-powered options. The plan is to start small by addressing just the small fleet of passenger vehicles assigned to various departments for use around the city. That portion of the fleet consists of 15 vehicles.
The plan does not include replacing police department vehicles or other heavier vehicles the city uses for its operations currently.
"When it comes to the weight of conversion, we're thinking of a very measured approach," said Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, chairperson of the Public Works Committee who helped present information on the plan.
The city has been making use of the U.S. Department of Energy’s alternative fuels data center to get a feel for the difference in emissions and costs for gas-powered, hybrid and electric vehicles.
Public Works Director Todd Janigo said he’s been working with Superior Water, Light and Power and an electrical contractor to get information on the costs of installing charging stations for fully electric vehicles in the city. He said initially, the city is looking at a couple of public charging stations in the Government Center parking lot and a couple in the side lot used for city and county government vehicles.
"We're kind of in the ... investigation stage, where we're learning a lot about them (alternative fuel vehicles) and what that's going to look like down the road based on the alternative energy site,” Janigo said. "We're going to find out about the chargers; I'm waiting for a quote on those."
Initially, Van Sickle said the city could start with hybrids because it doesn’t have the infrastructure for electric vehicles.
Van Sickle said a Chevy Equinox purchased by the city in 2019 cost $24,200 and is expected to produce about 6,200 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year, burning about 260 gallons of fuel.
"Comparatively, if we're looking at just a hybrid Ford Escape, the price tag is around $27,000 right now, and we would expect the emissions to clock in somewhere around 3,634 of CO2 a year and consume about 100 gallons less in a year,” Van Sickle said. “When you compound that, it’s about 40,000 pounds less a year.”
Over 15 years, the costs are about the same, Janigo said.
However, Van Sickle said, the city isn’t planning to make any changes without more information. Janigo agreed.
“We don’t have solid answers quite yet,” he said.
Still, Van Sickle said with 12 of the city’s passenger vehicles older than 12 years, she said it’s something for the council to consider when those vehicles are replaced.
Councilor Nicholas Ledin said he is glad the city is taking on such a challenge.
"It is high time. It is an investment that is, to me, not just dollars and cents, but a responsibility of the city to lead,” he said.