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City of Newark will add electric cars to its fleet

The city of Newark is pursuing a plan to add electric vehicles to its fleet, a move that would save money, lower emissions and put the city at the forefront of a growing environmental movement.

City council OK’d the plan last month, directing City Manager Tom Coleman to begin identifying city departments that would be a good fit for electric vehicles.

Coleman said the city will buy two electric vehicles in 2020, one for code enforcement and one for parking enforcement, but the exact make and model haven’t been determined.

He envisions installing two charging stations, one at city hall and one in a municipal parking lot. The stations will each have two charging ports, one of which could be used by members of the public.

If the initial electric vehicles work out, more could be added. The electric vehicles would be phased in, being purchased only when an existing vehicle is slated for replacement.

“Before we go all in, we have to work out the peripheral issues of making a change like that,” Coleman said.

The city also plans to consider electric pickup trucks, which are just starting to hit the market, as well as electric vehicles for the police department and even the possibility of electric buses for the Unicity bus service.

“Buses are where we would get the most impact,” Coleman said, noting that the city is still studying the feasibility of electric buses and trucks and any purchase likely would be several years away.

He said the city has considered electric vehicles for several years, but the latest push came from Andrew O’Donnell, a Newark resident who presented research on the issue to the Conservation Advisory Commission and then to city council.

O’Donnell said the city could save $120,000 by purchasing 11 electric vehicles over the next five years. Electric cars can be purchased cheaper than other cars because they are eligible for up to $11,000 in federal and state rebates, he said.

Fuel savings would add up to another $3,000 per year, and maintenance costs are usually lower for electric vehicles, O’Donnell said.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said.

A retired Army helicopter pilot, O’Donnell and his wife moved to the Arbour Park neighborhood two years ago and began looking into ways he could get involved with environmental issues here in Newark. He began attending meetings of the CAC – a volunteer board that advises council on environmental issues – and eventually talked to the group about his electric vehicle proposal.

O’Donnell is passionate about electric vehicles. He’s owned three Toyota Prius hybrids and last year bought the all-electric 2018 Nissan Leaf.

“It feels like you’re driving the future,” he said.

O’Donnell said it costs him less than $1 a day to charge the vehicle while saving him a couple thousand dollars per year in fuel he used to spend on his daily commute to Aberdeen Proving Ground. It would cost the city far less because the city buys electricity at a wholesale rate.

“This changed my household so much, and if you scale up to a city, it’s really a good thing,” he said.

The base model of the Leaf has a range of about 150 miles, though some electric vehicles have a range of more than 225 miles – enough to drive to Washington, D.C., and back on a single charge.

According to the U.S Department of Energy, an electric vehicle has less than half the emissions of a gasoline-powered vehicle, and the environmental impact will likely decrease even more as the country gradually shifts to cleaner methods of electricity generation.

The environmental benefits are obvious, but O’Donnell argues that even someone who thinks climate change is a hoax should appreciate the financial benefit to taxpayers if the city switches to electric vehicles.

“The main takeaway is it saves the city money,” he said. “A nice side effect is that it cleans the air.”

George Irvine, chairman of the CAC, said developing an electric vehicle fleet would make the city a leader on environmental issues and set an example for residents.

Other towns around the country have had success adding electric vehicles. Coral Gables, Fla., started with 20 electric vehicles in 2016 and is now up to 43. New York City has 2,200 with the intention of nearly doubling that by 2025. Seattle has approximately 200 electric vehicles with plans to convert the entire fleet by 2030 and is even testing an all-electric garbage truck.

“It’s good to set an example for citizens,” Irvine said.

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