Ittner, Owsley oppose electric-car purchase
December 6, 2014
Two Pitkin County commissioners want to pull the plug on a federal grant to purchase electric vehicles.
Commissioners Rob Ittner and Michael Owsley said Wednesday they feel the $165,580 the county has been awarded through a Federal Highway Administration program could be better spent. They could be overruled by the other three commissioners when the matter comes back to the board for a vote Dec. 15.
The county received a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant earlier this year after applying to use it to purchase electric vehicles. The grant hasn't been accepted yet, so the intended use could be changed as long as it is used to reduce traffic, improve air quality between the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and Aspen or both, according to Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettit.
He proposed using the grant to buy at least three electric vehicles to mix into Pitkin County's fleet of 178 cars and light trucks. He said they could be used on short trips to reduce the county's carbon footprint.
“It’s not that I’m against clean air.”
Commissioner Michael Owsley
"I think electric vehicles are a good way to go," Pettit said.
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He is preparing information to show how electric vehicles are more cost-effective than gas-powered equivalents in energy usage, even with a higher purchase price. The presentation wasn't ready yet for Wednesday's county commissioner meeting, Pettit said.
The Federal Highway Administration grant would require a $34,220 local matching grant. County staff appeared before the commissioners Wednesday with a wide-ranging request for supplemental budget appropriations, including the matching grant. Ittner and Owsley balked at releasing those funds.
"The cost of these electric cars is exorbitant, in my opinion," Owsley said. "It's not that I'm against clean air.
"If it was our money — if it was my money — we wouldn't be doing this."
Pitkin County hasn't determined the price of the electric vehicles it is targeting. The state government is finalizing a bid package for vehicles — soliciting bids from various dealers to find the best deals on various types of vehicles. Once that bid package is established, local governments can piggyback on to get vehicles at the same prices as the state government, Pettit said. It will significantly reduce the expense for Pitkin County.
The $200,000 from the federal grant and matching funds would probably allow the county to buy three electric vehicles and install a charging station at the Public Works Department and assist with stations at the Rio Grande Parking Garage, Pettit said.
Although a price for electric vehicles wasn't discussed Wednesday, Owsley said he would prefer that the county purchase high-efficiency gas vehicles rather than electric because gas vehicles cost half as much. He also suggested that the county could purchase bicycles to promote clean transportation.
"We could buy 500 bicycles with it," Owsley said.
Ittner agreed that the Federal Highway Administration grant could be better spent on other projects, even if the funding went to projects outside Pitkin County that produce clean air for the county.
Commissioner George Newman disagreed with his colleagues. He said it would be a "shame" to give up the grant, because it can be put to good use. The city of Aspen and Pitkin County have worked on how to reduce traffic-related issues at the entrance to Aspen, he said, and the county's purchase of electric vehicles would further that goal.
The purchase couldn't be decided Wednesday because County Commissioners Rachel Richards and Steve Child were absent. The discussion will continue Dec. 15.
County Manager Jon Peacock noted that the full board discussed the issue previously and the majority supported seeking the grant for electric vehicles. Nevertheless, Ittner and Owsley said they want the grant considered as an individual item rather than part of a broader supplemental appropriation measure when it returns to them in two weeks.