The Leesburg Town Council is considering how to add hybrid or full-electric vehicles to the town fleet and the costs of doing so.
Hybrid and electric vehicles, as town staff found for the report presented to the council Monday night, tend to cost more up front but with savings down the line in gas costs. Councilman Neil Steinberg pointed out electric vehicles also have lower maintenance costs over their lifetimes.
But in addition to the up-front cost, bringing in hybrid or electric vehicles would require charging stations, new staff training and new tools.
Public Works Assistant Director of Operations Christopher Kohr told the council that staff members had reached out to Loudoun County, the City of Manassas and the City of Fairfax to see what their experience has been. All three have been using hybrid vehicles for some time, with City of Fairfax preparing to buy its first all-electric vehicle in the next fiscal year. Those jurisdictions also reported they are replacing those vehicles more quickly, while they are still under warranty, to avoid possibly having to take on the cost of replacing their batteries.
But the town currently counts 204 vehicles in its fleet, and already isn’t keeping up with replacing them under staff recommendations. According to a staff report, each year town staff create a list of vehicles needing replacement based on age, mileage, engine hours, and maintenance costs, and each year the list of vehicles is larger than the available funding.
Kohr said taking out the types of vehicles for which there are no good electric options today, and vehicles that can’t be down for long charging periods such as emergency vehicles, there are about 22 fleet vehicles that could realistically go all-electric.
The town also found studies by the Electrification Coalition of municipalities’ experiences deploying electric fleets in Des Moines, IA, and Charlotte, NC. In Des Moines, those vehicles were found effective despite the cold temperatures, and the city is on track to an all-electric fleet by 2050. Charlotte has found electric options even for heavy-duty vehicles, and has found switching to electric vehicles to be a way to bring their costs down. The city is moving toward an all-electric fleet by 2030.
However, the staff report set councilmembers talking not in years, but in decades.
“Not in five years, not in 10 years, maybe in 30 or 50 years we can save our taxpayers dollars by not paying for gasoline that’s only going to get more and more volatile in pricing, but also we can do our part to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and just keep pushing towards the future,” said Councilman Zach Cummings, who first raised the idea of electrifying Leesburg’s fleet.
A UN climate report released earlier this year calculated that to limit global warming to around 2.7 degrees, the target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak before 2025 and be cut nearly in half by 2030.
“I think as council this is something that for most of us, we strongly would like to push forward with,” said Councilman Neil Steinberg. “I know it’s not tomorrow, but it’s definitely a conversation we want to continue because in the end it’s somewhere we have to get to.”