NORTH STONINGTON — There may yet be some life left in the Department of Public Works' 25-year-old tractor-trailer, but the town will need to consider whether a move to replace the truck with an electric Class 8 truck could be more cost efficient.
Officials are debating whether to include an initial lease payment as a capital expenditure in the 2021-22 fiscal budget, a move that could make the town eligible for reimbursement of approximately 45% of the purchase cost. First Selectman Mike Urgo said he believes that with the reimbursement and a promise of fuel, maintenance and other savings, it is a no-brainer for the town to make an investment now.
“I think, as towns, we need to be leaders in sustainability efforts,” Urgo said. “If we can show that a municipality can be a leader in something like this, maybe other towns in the region or state will follow suit.”
The expenditure is likely to be met with at least some criticism, however, as conditions of a state grant could require a large initial investment during a year in which local governments, including North Stonington, are facing hard spending decisions as a result of the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic.
Members of the Board of Selectmen last Tuesday evening informally agreed to send a line item for leasing vehicle to the Board of Finance for further deliberation. Under the proposal, if funded, the town would obtain a three- or four-year lease for the purchase of a Peterbilt Model 579 EV, a zero-emissions tractor-trailer. The truck would replace the existing tractor-trailer, currently used most frequently for refuse trips, which was purchased in 1997.
John Lindsey, a North Stonington resident who works as head of electric vehicle business sales for Schneider Electric of North America, told the board that he believes the truck would pay for itself in time, eventually leading to an estimated fuel and maintenance savings of about $4,000 per year after a short-term lease.
Replacing the current diesel truck with an electric vehicle would also create a significant reduction in the town’s carbon footprint by reducing fossil fuel consumption. Lindsey said with the model that the community is considering, a switch to an electric-powered truck would not impact the truck’s ability or performance.
“Over the life of the vehicle, the town would see its carbon footprint cut by about 35% compared to continued use of the diesel truck,” Lindsey said.
Officials said Lindsey will not be involved in the sale or lease of any truck to the town. Lindsey said he was asked to speak as a resident and electric vehicle professional, and chose to aid in analysis to help taxpayers in North Stonington.
Lindsey said that based on preliminary needs and desired features, the price of a truck would likely vary from about $320,000 to $360,000 per truck. The town would also need to consider the cost of replacement batteries over the life of the truck, he said, but that even those prices continue to vary drastically based on technological developments over the past decade.
“I don’t always make recommendations to organizations to move forward, in fact in some instances it may not make sense at all,” he said. “I do believe that in this instance, however, it would be a good move for the town.”
North Stonington received a state grant on Feb. 9 that would provide partial funding for the purchase of a fuel-efficient electric Class 8 tractor-trailer. Under the conditions of the grant, the town would be responsible for funding and would be reimbursed $167,942.38.
Christine Dias, administration and finance officer in North Stonington, said the town would be responsible for up to $182,000 in additional costs to fund the purchase.
Selectman Bob Carlson praised efforts to reduce carbon footprint and improve cost efficiency, but also urged the town to consider whether it may be too soon to rush into a purchase. Carlson said it has been a stressful time financially for many local families, and that the town will need to weigh the benefits and costs of such a purchase.
Carlson also questioned whether leasing the truck rather than making a full purchase could impact reimbursement. Urgo said it is his understanding that, as long as a lease is approved, the truck would be considered purchased and the town would remain eligible for reimbursement.
In order to receive the grant, however, the town will also need to decommission and dismantle the 25-year-old tractor trailer so that it may never be used again.
“I have a hard time just throwing away a truck that still has life in it,” he said.
Urgo said he believes the purchase would be a win-win for the community, however, by replacing an older truck before it breaks down and simultaneously reducing annual energy expenditures.
If the town does not move forward, Urgo said it could also lose eligibility for reimbursement and may not be given a grant during future years, especially as the state looks to address its own budget woes.
Carlson, on the other hand, is concerned that it may just not be the right time to front the bill.
“For every line item we leave in, it makes me think about what line item we are going to need to take out in order to maintain balance,” he said. “I think it’s worth exploring, but I don’t think the town can afford it right now.”