Pitkin County green lights electric vehicles purchase

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County will add up to three electric cars to its fleet of vehicles after commissioners voted 4-1 Monday in approval of the purchase, most of which will be funded by federal grant money.

“We think it makes sense environmentally, and we think it makes sense budgetarily,” Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet told commissioners.

It will cost nearly $200,000 to roll out the pilot program, which will partly be financed with county funds.

Commissioners generally agreed that electric vehicles would set a good example by reducing the county’s carbon footprint and serving as a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation. But Commissioner Michael Owsley questioned whether the county could better spend the grant on something other than the electric vehicles. Owsley argued that the vehicles — while sending off a feel-good, environmental message — don’t serve the greater public good.

“If the county really wants to be forward-thinking, let’s travel 15,000 miles less than we did last year (with public vehicles),” he said. “Let’s together think of a public project that we can spend this money on, not an internal county project.”

Monday’s decision came after a Dec. 3 meeting in which three of the five board members were present, as Steve Child and Rachel Richards weren’t in attendance. At that meeting, Owsley and outgoing Commissioner Rob Ittner said the $165,580 grant, provided by the Federal Highway Administration and requiring a $34,220 local matching grant, could be better spent.

On Monday, Ittner voted in approval of the purchase — Owsley cast the dissenting vote — but couched his decision by saying that commissioners must “scrutinize every dollar that is spent.” Owsley also agreed that not enough scrutiny was given to the acquisition of electric cars.

Yet Richards and Child, as well as Commissioner George Newman, agreed that the purchase is the appropriate way to spend the grant money, and shows that the county is forward-thinking.

“I feel it’s very important to make some step toward electric vehicles,” Richards said. “If we don’t create a framework for plug-ins and electric vehicles, then it will never happen. Getting this infrastructure, so we can get off fossil fuels, is a critical leadership role for me.”

Pettet said the electric vehicles would be used locally by county staffers. He projected individual cars would travel about 13,500 annually. In his vehicle life-cycle cost comparison presented to the board, Pettet said a fully electric Ford Focus would cost $29,000 and emit 2.4 tons of carbon dioxide a year, compared with 5.6 tons annually for a gasoline-powered Ford Focus, which has a $22,000 price tag.

The county expects to realize $12,574 in savings over a 10-year span based on the use of three electric vehicles and two charging stations. The operational cost over a decade would amount to $113,785, compared with $126,360 during the same duration for three gas-powered vehicles, according to data Pettet presented to the board. The county’s vehicle fleet currently totals 187.

Pettet said he isn’t sure what type of vehicles the county will buy. He said he’s waiting to see what electric options Colorado will have available. The plug-in stations would go up at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s bus barn, located off of Highway 82 across from the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.