MONTPELIER — A comprehensive report outlines efforts by the city of Montpelier to go green with its public works department fleet of vehicles.
The report to City Council is in response to a request by Mayor Anne Watson to review alternative energy sources for city vehicles to help meet the goal of being net-zero in fossil-fuel use by 2030.
The report notes that there are challenges to moving quickly because of the importance vehicles operated by the Department of Public Works to maintain city operations in all seasons.
Two immediate steps proposed include a pilot project as soon as possible to convert one of the city’s Ford 550 dump trucks to biodiesel fuel. The DPW also proposes to monitor and prepare for the availability of a renewable diesel or fuel that is expected to be available in Vermont in the near future.
Ongoing efforts to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint have already included sealing old windows in City Hall, restoring controls and insulating piping for the ice-melting system for the exterior apron of the city fire station, adding interior storm windows at the Public Works Garage and improving the heating and cooling system at the Montpelier Police Department. The MPD will also soon purchase a hybrid vehicle suitable for law enforcement, which only recently became available, the report said.
The report was prepared by Public Works Director Tom McArdle, DPW Equipment Supervisor Eric Ladd and Assistant City Manager Sue Allen.
According to a March report by the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee, the city uses about 28,000 gallons of diesel and 15,000 gallons of gasoline a year.
In both reports, it is noted that the demands of heavy diesel vehicles and equipment makes it difficult to convert to alternative fuels, particularly in winter.
Biodiesel is primarily petroleum-based, with 20% vegetable-based product added during the summer months (known as B-20) but reduced to 5% (known as B-5) in colder months because the fuel will congeal at lower temperatures, the report said, adding that the addition of a chemical treatment to combat the problem is a possible option.
Biodiesel has a tendency to congeal in cold temperatures and can leave deposits in fuel tanks and can clog and damage fuel lines, reducing performance and fuel efficiency. There is also no steady local supplier available to provide biodiesel which would have purchased at a local station. It also costs about $3.99 a gallon versus $2.29 for regular diesel obtained in bulk deliveries, the report said.
Nonetheless, the city is proceeding with a pilot project to measure the performance of biodiesel in a Ford 550 dump truck to gauge the benefits and challenges of the alternative fuel. The Ford 550 are already rated to use biodiesel. The manufacturer of the pilot vehicle will allow the fuel change use without impacting its warranty, the report said.
Other problems with biodiesel are that the city would need a new standalone tank for biodiesel. Also, there is no space at the DPW Garage for an above-ground tank that would have to meet costly state regulations.
City officials are pinning their hopes on a new renewable biodiesel fuel made from recycled fats and oils as well as other raw materials that is much-better suited to public works fleets, the report said. The best-known brand is Neste, an oil refining and marketing company based in Finland with operations in 14 countries and the largest maker of renewable diesel in the world.
The report noted that Neste claims its products have 50% to 90% lower greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil-fuel diesel, is compatible with petroleum-based diesel and could be used in DPW vehicles without any modifications needed.
“Fleet vehicles have demanding performance requirements, in addition to the need to manage the biodiesel fuel that is corrosive in nature which impacts the vehicles itself and our fuel tanks, which are relatively old,” McArdle said. “Renewable diesel is a fuel that you can start running in your equipment overnight.
“You don’t have to drain your fuel tanks, you don’t have to flush them, you don’t have to make any equipment modifications, it blends equally well with petroleum diesel or biodiesel. It’s literally as simple as picking up the phone, calling up your supplier and saying, ‘We’re going to need some fuel,’” he added.
However, demand for Neste products by larger states like California and New York has meant that smaller states like Vermont may have to wait awhile before supplies are available, the report said.
On the electric vehicle front, the report said DPW is interested in a light-duty pick-up truck and a utility van, known as Workhorse, that show “great promise” replacing similar fleet vehicles. Another hybrid company vehicle made by XL – Fleet is also being considered, although it adds $25,000 to $27,000 to the cost of a standard half-ton truck, costing $21,000, the report said.
There is also some concern about the environmental sustainability of mining for lithium for hybrid vehicle batteries, the report added.
Watson said she grateful for the DPW’s “thoughtful evaluation” of the options available to the city.
“I appreciate that this plan is both forward-looking and takes some action now,” Watson said. “Of all of the energy sources to convert to renewables, transportation has been the hardest to move forward.
“It’s the trickiest to plan for. The Energy Advisory Committee has discussed some of the renewable fuel options here, and they all sound like they have potential,” Watson continued. “It’s important to keep in mind that the types of vehicles that DPW uses are very expensive and very relatively uncommon pieces of equipment. They don’t just exist as electric vehicles, and so planning for them to use renewable fuels is particularly hard.
“This is a great step and I’m thankful for everyone on the city staff who put this together,” she added.
The report will be present to City Council at its August 14 meeting at City Hall, at 6:30 p.m.