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Sparky 1

Eco-friendly electric trucks are practical and look cool

01.17.17
By: Mark Tarnacki
Sparky 1 side view

"Sparky 1" is the informal nickname that users have given for this new addition to the College fleet.

Two new electric trucks coming into service at Saint Michael’s College this week will turn a few heads as they quietly whir around campus collecting recycling or making deliveries.

Russell Sabens, the College’s Transportation & Fleet administrator, says he took delivery last week of the unique-looking vehicles, built by a Florida company called MotoElectric that had impressed him in his research. As far as he knows, these are the first electric vehicles ever in the College’s fleet.

With top speeds of about 25 mph, the new trucks won’t set any racing records, but they are rugged, practical and well-designed for their designated purposes, Sabens said, while capable of hauling 4,400 pounds. Chief staff users of them in their daily rounds will be Scott Benoit of Receiving while doing his regular deliveries, and the Facilities workers who go building-to-building most days to collect recycling.

Just as important as those functions is the environmental statement that it makes by bringing in the new electric trucks to replace old “gas guzzler“ traditional pickups that had been doing those jobs, agree Sabens and Heather Ellis-Lynch, the College’s sustainability director.

Both trucks are white in color with decals on the side reading “Saint Michael’s College” and “Electric Truck/Zero Emissions.” Lynch explained that while charging the trucks does affect the carbon footprint in a less-direct-but-real way, it still is a a small fraction of the effects on the carbon footprint from a fossil-fuel-burning vehicle doing the same work -- and the emissions from the trucks themselves are, in fact, zero.

Charging them is simple -- plug them into any 110-volt outlet, said Sabens, who is parking them in the Transportation Garages on North Campus. “They’ll go 20 to 50 miles on a charge, and Scott Benoit estimates he puts maybe 10 miles per day on them, so we can charge them once or twice a week – same with the recycling truck.”

MotoElectric has sold several trucks to clients in northern climates and have seen no problems, he said, noting. “We got the model with a heater.” The cost of the trucks was $20,785 each, delivered, which came from his department’s regular capital budget -- funds that otherwise would have been needed for maintenance and eventual replacement of conventional vehicles anyhow. “We’ll save in fuel – and save the environment,” he said, speculating that property maintenance staff might use the trucks too.

For loading grounds equipment, or for Benoit’s deliveries, the trucks’ sides fold down, “so you can drive a forklift right up to the side and set a load down on the small flatbed,” Sabens explained. He and Lynch even are talking about possible ways to use the trucks to haul or sell produce when the campus farmer’s market is in season.

Sabens first saw the trucks when researching shuttle buses. “I learned about these trucks and started getting ideas of how they might be of good practical use here,” he said. Lynch of the Sustainability Office said, “I think it shows facilities and the College being forward-thinking in the way we operate on campus. We use a lot of vehicles on campus to transport things, and that has impact -- so looking at things that have less impact in respect to climate change and the environment shows we care about this and are thinking about this.”

Saint Michael’s, she said, “is part of the upswing of colleges that are using this type of vehicle. It will be fun for students to see around campus and see that we are making an effort.” Sabens said the trucks already seem to have gotten the informal names of "Sparky 1" and "Sparky 2" among users.

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