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Vehicle fleet managers gain ‘green’ tips

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post IndependentScott Saffian, representing ChargePoint Network, explains the new technology in a charging station for plug-in vehicles to Heather McGregor, director of Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), during Friday's seminar in Glenwood Springs.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Converting a government or private vehicle fleet to become more green isn’t a move that can be made overnight, according to clean energy vehicle technology consultant Michael Ogburn.

Instead, there needs to be a clear policy and specific goals, following a plan that can be implemented during a period of time with measurable results, he said.

Ogburn works with Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER) and the Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative (G-NECI), organizers of the “Vehicle Fleets in the Clean Energy Economy” workshop, held Friday at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

The workshop brought together public and private fleet managers, energy industry representatives and local and state government officials to discuss methods of reducing costs by turning to the use of more energy-efficient vehicles and alternative fuels.

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A variety of fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles were also on display for “tire-kicking” and test drives.

With global growth and demand for petroleum predicted to outpace supplies by 2020, the cost of continuing to use solely traditional gas- and diesel-powered vehicles will only go up, Ogburn noted.

But energy efficient technologies, such as hybrid and fully electric vehicles, compressed natural gas, bi-fuel vehicles, biodiesel and other alternative fuels, provide a pathway to controlling costs before they get out of hand.

“Green fleets are like having an ace in the back pocket,” he said, adding it makes sense to move in that direction slowly, but deliberately over time.

“You can’t just flip a fleet in one year when the crisis hits,” he said.

Some local governments have already heeded that advice.

The Basalt Police Department, for instance, bought its first Ford Escape hybrid patrol vehicle at the start of last year and now has five, accounting for half the department’s fleet.

Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda, who was one of the panelists at Friday’s workshop, said the program grew out of the recommendations of the town’s “green team” committee a few years ago.

Budget considerations related to the upfront cost of the vehicles was an issue, “especially for a small town,” he said.

Technology needs for a patrol vehicle, including extra electrical capacity to run emergency lights, police radios and in-vehicle cameras and computers, also needed to be taken into consideration.

“There were also political considerations. We were asked to buy American,” Ikeda said.

The decision to go with the Ford Escape hybrid has paid off in numerous ways. The vehicles get around 30 miles per gallon, both in town and on the highway, compared to 17 mpg/city for the department’s Chevy Impalas, he said.

“Idle time fuel savings is huge,” Ikeda said, “because we are sitting and idling a lot.”

An unexpected bonus was that the Escapes are actually more roomy and perform better than some of the more popular police vehicles available today.

“One of our larger officers commented that he fits in [the Escape] very well, and that it has more space than our Chevy Tahoe,” Ikeda said.

The Aspen Police Department also made the conversion over the past year to using Toyota Highlander hybrids for its patrol and administrative staff.

Bob Bush, fleet manager for the city of Glenwood Springs, said the city is exploring the possibility of hybrids for its police department.

“It probably won’t happen this year, but it is something we’re looking at,” he said. Bush also liked the new fully electric Ford Transit Connect van that was on display outside the Community Center.

Carbondale Public Works Director Larry Ballenger said his town is weighing the cost of hybrid vehicles versus some of the more fuel-efficient traditional gas-powered vehicles that are available. For a small town with not as many vehicle miles, the cost differences aren’t that great, he said.

Carbondale also experimented with the use of biodiesel for its heavy machinery and trucks. However, because that equipment isn’t used as much as in larger municipalities, the fuel gelled in the fuel tanks and ruined two motors, so the town halted the practice, Ballenger said.

“But the technology keeps changing,” he said, suggesting it could be a future option.

David Hill, vice president of Natural Gas Economy Operations for EnCana Oil and Gas, also gave an update on the prospects of expanding the use of compressed natural gas vehicles in Colorado and on the Western Slope.

EnCana, a major player in the Garfield County gas industry, has been working to convert its own vehicle fleets for the use of natural gas.

To not do that, “is like a dairy farmer not drinking milk,” Hill said.

And, “It’s a direct path to the 2020 goals,” he said. “It’s a technology that’s been here, and that we don’t have to wait on.”

That’s not to say there aren’t barriers, including the lack of infrastructure and a limited number of re-fueling stations, especially on the Western Slope. The number of qualified mechanics to do the vehicle conversions is also limited, he said.

One Garfield County filling station operator, Swallow Oil of Rifle, is looking to establish a natural gas fueling station in Parachute.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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