Green Operations

City of Santa Monica Adapts Early to Alt-Fuel Use

September 2008, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Mike Scott

Setting its first vehicle emissions-reduction policy in 1993, the City of Santa Monica, Calif., was an early adopter of using alternative fuels to address both budget-cutting efforts and local municipal and residential desires for cleaner environments.

The 1993 policy goal included powering at least 75 percent of City vehicles with alternative fuels. The alternative fuels could include a combination of options from natural gas to propane to electric.

In the 15 years since the City’s policy was implemented, more than 84 percent of municipal fleet vehicles now use an alternative fuel. The result has been lower cost of fuel per gallon and a reduction of over 1500 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

City Runs Diverse Alt-Fuel Fleet

Natural gas vehicles currently comprise 236 of Santa Monica’s 450-vehicle fleet. The price of a gallon of natural gas has ranged between $1.25 and $1.50 in recent months, a cost per gallon significantly cheaper than either gasoline or diesel, said Santa Monica Fleet Administrator Rick Sikes.

A variety of other alternative-fuel vehicles are deployed in the City’s fleet, according to Sikes, including 81 biodiesel-fueled vehicles, 40 electric vehicles, 15 hybrids, 13 propane-powered vehicles, six hydrogen-powered cars, and two solar-powered traffic signaling trailers. Seventy-three of the fleet vehicles are traditional gasoline-powered cars.

Alternative fueled vehicles also drive significantly better Sikes said. City employees report less vibration in vehicles powered by natural gas and other alternative fuels. In addition, installing a natural gas fueling infrastructure within the City’s eight square miles has been relatively simple. Natural gas fueling stations are now available at the City’s main garage and municipal bus line station.

Clean Energy, the largest provider of natural gas for vehicle use in North America, has also opened a natural gas station available to the public within city limits, Sikes said.

"The fuel savings alone may not be significant enough in terms of actual dollars to cover the long-term added cost of purchasing vehicles powered by these alternative fuels," Sikes said. "Yet, any added costs over the long-term, if any, aren’t significant when you consider the fuel consumption savings."

Natural gas-driven vehicles cost an additional $30,000-$35,000 for a $200,000-plus, large-scale vehicle, or $4,000 more for a typical sedan.

"The strategy works for Santa Monica largely because area residents are more environmentally conscious and we have support from the city council and other political leaders", Sikes said. "Of course having your boss being a proponent helps too."

Renee Cowhig, the City’s maintenance manager, oversees fleet management and is a long-time supporter of alternative-fuel technologies. She drove one of the original electric vehicles and currently drives a plug-in Prius. "There will be issues to resolve and without this kind of support it would be impossible to reach these goals," said Sikes.


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