2016-12-29 / Front Page

Biddeford staff test-drives electric

Saco officials share electric vehicle successes, failures
By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – City staff recently took the opportunity to drive an electric car on loan for a week thanks to a regional program. Employees drove a Nissan Leaf –a fully electric-powered vehicle, as distinct from hybrids which use both gasoline and electric power – during the week of Dec. 12.

The Leaf was on loan as part of the Electric Vehicle Lending Program from the Greater Portland Council of Governments. The program is supported by ReVision Heat, a Maine-based energy contractor.

“I asked staff to try it out, evaluate it, take a look at it,” said City Manager Jim Bennett, “so that as we potentially down the road look at changing out some of the fleet that we have, we’d be able to have some experience on whether or not we’d move to something other than just straight gasoline and diesel.”

Bennett said the city has no specific plans in mind for bringing on new vehicles, but replacing old vehicles with new ones is just an incidental part of owning the city fleet. All the city’s departments together own 134 vehicles, including buses, dump trucks, four-wheelers, street sweepers and other heavy equipment. About 50 of the vehicles are regular Class C vehicles, which include police vehicles, SUVs and pickup trucks.

“We end up doing at least a half a million dollars or more every year in vehicle purchases, when you take a look at everything,” Bennett said.

Saco has its own relationship with clean energy vehicles, beginning during the administration of former Mayor Mark Johnston. About 2007 the city bought a Toyota Prius and a ZENN electric car, said Dick Lambert, head code enforcement officer. The city still has the Prius, but the ZENN didn’t work out.

“It was an experimental vehicle, and it was not very successful,” Johnston said.

Johnston added that the vehicle had only two-seat capacity.

“There was no department heads that wanted to use it,” Johnston said. “It broke down quite often.”

“It just wasn’t functional because we needed to take it on inspections and it had a top end of 25 mph,” Lambert said. “I think it was because of the way it was constructed. It couldn’t survive a high-speed traffic accident, so they had a limiter on it.”

“We took it to Biddeford once to have a meeting at the fire station,” Lambert continued. “The electrical inspector and I were in the car and as we passed the Biddeford Post Office, there’s a little hill, and as we were climbing the hill I thought we were (going to) need to get out and push it . . . because it had no power.”

Lambert wasn’t turned off from clean energy cars from that experience, however. He said he owns a Prius himself, and aside from that, pure electric cars have improved.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Lambert said. “The technology for all-electric cars has come a long way since we had that vehicle. They’re much more reliable. Investing in an all-electric car for around-the-city-use is probably a good idea.”

Saco today has three Priuses. Along with the first bought in 2007, which is now used by code enforcement, Saco bought a second in 2012, which is used by city hall staff, and a third in 2015, used by public works.

Small cars, like the Prius, get used for simple personal transportation incidental to various city staff tasks, according to Bennett.

“We have legitimate needs where we have to move people from their workplace out into the field, but the vehicle itself doesn’t need to perform,” Bennett said.

“We have vehicles that are assigned to code enforcement, to the assessor’s office, to our engineering department,” Bennett added.

According to Lambert, Saco Code Enforcement’s vehicles get used simply to go out to locations to perform inspections.

“We’re just trying to take a look at anything we can that makes some sense in the long run in order to save money,” Bennett said about the Electric Vehicle Lending Program, “and if you can do something that, at the same time, does the right thing as it relates to the carbon footprint, I think we need to do that.”

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

Return to top