Green Fleet

Provo City Puts Two Electric Trucks on the Road

January 29, 2009

PROVO CITY, UTAH - For the next 30 days, Mayor Lewis Billings is exchanging the grumble of a combustion engine for the hum of an electric motor, according to the Daily Herald.  

Billings is one of several city employees who will be test driving one of Provo' City's two new Miles ZX40ST electric trucks.

It's part of an effort headed by the City's Energy Strategy and Policy Task Force to find ways to reduce costs, pollution and dependence on foreign oil, he said.

Billings said the task force considered several alternative fuel options for city vehicles, including natural gas and biodiesel, before settling on electric technology. That seemed to be the route with the most solid track record and the most sensible bottom line, he said.

"It seemed like to us that many of those were still quite experimental," he said. "As we started putting analysis to these things, there wasn't a cost benefit."

Still, it remains to be seen whether the electric trucks will pan out, he said. Engineers will review the numbers in six months and determine whether the city should look at acquiring more electric vehicles, he said.

"It's not going to be able to replace all vehicles," he said.

While it may look like a vehicle of the future, don't expect it to pass you on the road: With a maximum speed of 25 mph and range of about 40 miles, the trucks were purchased from a need for economy rather than speed, said Deputy Public Works Director Scott Peppler.

"We just wanted to see just whether or not they really are cost-effective," he said. "We're obviously looking and want to try to go green as much as we can."

The trucks cost the city about $20,000 each when they were purchased back in October, Peppler said. But they require no gas to run and produce zero emissions -- in fact, they don't even have tailpipes. All this means they're eco-friendly and they can operate at a fraction of the cost of conventional vehicles. Even if completely drained, the lead-acid batteries are ready for another full trip after a six-hour charge.

"We obviously want to try to limit our reliance on foreign oil," Peppler said. "We're only going to do that where it's cost-effective."

After the 30-day trial, the trucks will go to the City's Energy and Public Works departments, respectively. Peppler said the Energy Department would use one for general purpose work, while Public Works may designate theirs for engineers' use. Because of the speed and distance constraints, the trucks will not travel on the freeway, he said.

The Miles ZX40ST is built by the Tianjin-Qingyuan Electric Vehicle Co. of Tianjin, China. In Chinese markets, it's sold under the name "Happy Messenger."

Peppler said the city is working with the manufacturer to modify the trucks to allow for 35-mph speeds.

The city is also hoping to convert its garbage collection fleet to natural gas, Billings said. It will know within the next eight months whether it will win a $500,000 federal grant to convert the vehicles.

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