Waco facing challenges going electric

Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 10:38 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The City of Waco is working to turn its vehicle fleet electric over the next ten years, but even just getting started is proving to be a hefty challenge.

“Moving ahead too swiftly without proper infrastructure is going to be a problem for everyone,” said Andrea J. Barefield, Waco City Councilwoman.

The city council has a goal of “supporting sustainability and resiliency”, and is moving toward an all electric vehicle fleet.

“I think it’s really helpful for us as residents, and for us as leaders, to know the things we can do on the micro, mezzo and the macro level to make our city more sustainable and green and ensure a healthy climate for the future,” said Kelly Palmer, Waco City Councilwoman.

Using consultants CST, a fleet study is currently underway to determine what it would take to make the city’s 880 vehicle fleet electric.

”We’re in the middle of kind of figuring out optimization both from a cost perspective and from a green perspective,” said Jim Holmes, Waco City Councilman.

As far as cost, numbers at city council meetings are in the $100,000 range, about $10,000 a year.

Besides cost, battery recalls and electric vehicle availability are posing additional hurdles.

“We are charged with making the best decision for the future of our city and we have to begin in shafting thought for sustainability, we know this,” said Barefield. “I think where we run into the crisis is our need is advanced beyond what we can lay our hands on now, I would like to see a plan from fleet to prepare better because if we need to get on a wait list we need to get on it now.”

The limited types of electric vehicles readily available is also creating speed bumps.

“There are viable alternatives for sedans, for SUVs, and there are emerging alternatives for pickups,” said Randy Owen with CST. “In practical purposes, you cannot buy an F-150 Lightning this year, next year, you might get one in 2024.”

There aren’t viable alternatives right now either for larger vehicles like dump trucks and emergency vehicles.

According to City of Waco documents, an electric vehicle, a Ford Mach-E, was purchased for the Waco Police Department, however, the vehicle doesn’t have enough power and will now be used in a different department.

“This was originally purchased to put in as a Police Department Patrol unit, but the battery rated horsepower would not support the minimum lighting and other equipment needed for a marked police car,” documents state. “Therefore, this vehicle was redirected to be used by the Planning Department and will go into service as soon as the police graphic decals are removed, and general City of Waco decals are on.”

According to another document, it’s an industry-wide problem in the electric vehicle market.

“Evaluation of current Electric Vehicle (“EV”) based offerings finds there are currently no EV based police vehicles that can adequately support the required equipment of front-line police vehicles such as prisoner transport partitions, in-car computers, speed radars, in-car camera systems, in-car router systems, full emergency lighting requirements and the ability to provide large amounts secure storage for required sensitive tools,” the document states. “Additionally, due to the ‘pool’ nature of the Patrol fleet and the need of vehicles to run across the full 24-hour work day for police, there is not sufficient time to utilize traditional charging capabilities for current EV solutions. Because of the rigorous demands that a 24/7 deployment model plays on a police fleet, upgraded structural components and chassis support are necessary to support the harsh operating environment in which police vehicles are utilized. These upgraded components have been implemented in law enforcement specific vehicles from various manufacturers and are not yet found in retail EV offerings.”

As a result, the city is considering purchasing 34 hybrid vehicles for the police department, a price tag over $2,000,000.

EV proponents at the Waco City Council meeting Tuesday night said the city was moving too slow.

”In the face of the climate crisis we have the opportunity to at least begin the transition to EVs now, versus just continuing to ignore and do business as usual,” said Dr. Alan Northcutt, a climate advocate.

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