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After criticism, Winston-Salem looks to add hybrid vehicles to fleet

The city of Winston-Salem is putting the brakes on full gas vehicles.

After hitting flak last month for a nearly $1.7 million deal to buy 45 traditional SUVs for the Winston-Salem Police Department, the city is poised to take the first step toward that with a proposed purchase of eight hybrids to a cleaner-burning fleet, and is scaling back a plan to buy dozens of full-gasoline pickups while alternatives are explored.

The City Council Finance Committee on Nov. 7 unanimously approved a nearly $335,000 proposal for five Ford Interceptor hybrid police pursuit vehicles at $40,441 each and three Ford F-150 hybrid pickup trucks at $44,226 each .

The motion is on the agenda for Monday’s City Council meeting.

The Finance Committee also signed an $844,368 purchase of 28 traditional Ram 1500 Tradesman pickups for $30,156 each. That was half the number of vehicles the city originally planned for purchase when it issued a call for tenders from dealers.

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“Once we received that offer, we re-evaluated and tried to anticipate future needs and meet the council’s green initiatives,” Nicholas Geis, the city’s fleet director, told the finance committee. “We are working to secure either … hybrid pickup trucks or electric pickup trucks with this remaining funding.” The order windows are closed for these special items for this fiscal year. We hope to catch them when they open in July or August next year.”

Jeff McIntosh, member of the finance committee, noted that the city faces the same dilemma as ordinary consumers when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of rapidly evolving technologies like clean energy.

“I know that some of our decisions about when to buy things depend on what we need and when we can get it, and I know that although easier to order than electric cars, hybrid vehicles tend to be harder to come by,” McIntosh said. “So I applaud us for doing what we can, but I also know that better vehicles are coming out for our needs and for the planet. They’re just not available yet.”

“Making Some Progress”

The hybrid shift comes two weeks after climate-conscious residents, including a citizen panel that advises the city on its sustainability efforts, criticized the city for buying the police vehicles.

Members of Winston-Salem’s Community Sustainability Programs Committee said they were unaware of the plan to purchase the 45 SUVs, arguing that the city should include at least a small number of electric vehicles or hybrids in the purchase as a first step in a transition to cleaner modes of transportation.

By requiring eight hybrids and reducing proposed pickup purchases, that’s the route the city is taking with its latest request, noted Kevin Mundy, member of the finance committee.

“I’m just pointing out that we’re making some progress there,” he said.

Costs, range, emissions

As the gap closes, price remains a differentiator between conventional and hybrid vehicles.

The city’s low bid of $44,226 for the Ford F-150 hybrid pickups is more than $14,000 more than what it will pay for the 28 traditional Dodge Ram 1500 per vehicle.

However, some of that cost difference would be offset by fuel savings, especially if prices remain high.

The Ram has a combined mileage of 21 miles per gallon city and highway and can travel about 480 miles between fill-ups, while the F-150 gets about 25 miles per gallon and has a range of 650 miles.

The F-150 Hybrid emits about 25% less carbon dioxide, the main human-caused cause of climate change, than the gas-powered Ram.

Hybrids have lower emissions because they don’t burn any fuel when running on batteries.

Officials said last month the city is also exploring the possibility of adding cleaner hydrogen-powered vehicles to its fleet.

go solar

The council on Monday will also consider approving funding for a 70-kilowatt system of rooftop solar panels atop the Bryce A. Stuart Municipal Building at 100 E. First St.

The $189,314 project would be awarded to Renu Energy Solutions and is expected to qualify for a 30 percent federal stimulus through the Inflation Reduction Act, bringing the cost of the system to $132,520 under the city’s funding application.

John Deem covers climate change and the environment in Triad and Northwest North Carolina. His work is funded by a grant from the 1Earth Fund and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

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