News 5 Investigates

Feb 26, 2014 12:42 AM by Andy Koen

News 5 Investigates: Costs and benefits of alternative fuel vehicles

PUEBLO - Pueblo County is going green, investing in alternative fuel vehicles for its fleet. The county bought two Chevrolet Volts last year and plans to buy up to a dozen Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles this year.

Both have higher upfront costs, but the News 5 Guardians found the state is subsidizing those costs through grants.

"I think that in the long run the Volts will pay themselves off," said Pueblo County Fleet Director Carl Chavez.

He bought a used 2012 Volt and a new 2013 Volt at a cost of roughly $62,000. The Volt is primarily an electric car with a gasoline back up engine.

That efficiency is already helping Chavez's fuel budget.

"We can run a Volt 28 miles and it costs the county $0.83 in electricity," he said.

That translates to a savings of $928 per year in fuel costs as compared to the similarly sized Chevrolet Cobalt.

Another upfront cost faced by the county was the equipment necessary to charge the vehicles. Chavez took advantage of a $13,000 grant from the Governor's Energy Office to pay for the installation of two charging stations, each capable of servicing two vehicles at once.

"We're looking to see if we can provide the general public the charging that they need to go from Denver down to Pueblo or wherever it may be," explained Tom Hunt, a Senior Policy Advisor with the Governor's Energy Office.

Both Volts are covered by five-year warranties giving the county a cushion against replacing the battery array.

Chavez put new batteries in a Hybrid Civic in his fleet a few years ago. Without the warranty, he said the county's cost would have been more than $20,000. Chavez is not sure if he will keep the Volts beyond their warranty or trade them in for newer models.

The county and the state are also looking at promoting the use of another alternative fuel: compressed natural gas.

Hunt says CNG vehicles give off lower emissions and provide more horsepower which is beneficial for medium and large duty trucks.

"You have better engine options, it can provide the power that you need, the fuel in there better," he said.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles also have higher purchase prices and need local infrastructure in order to refuel.

Hunt said in the next 4 years, his office plans to award $15 million in grants to help build Compressed Natural Gas stations and another $15 million in grants to off-set the higher purchase price.

"There's not a ton of those around the state right now, maybe about 20 that are publicly available and we recognize that that's the hump that we need to get over," Hunt said.

There are currently no CNG stations in Pueblo County.

Natural gas as a fuel costs about a dollar less per gallon than diesel or unleaded. Chavez wants to buy between 10 and 12 CNG trucks and passenger vehicles this year.

"I'm going to try to convert everything over to alternative fuel vehicles," he said.

Electric vehicle owners in Colorado must pay $50 per year in taxes beginning this year. Thirty dollars of that money goes directly into the grant program to help build more charging stations.

Colorado is also part of a multi-state agreement committed to buying compressed natural gas vehicles in an effort to encourage automakers increase production and lower the sticker price.

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