Whatcom County kicking tires on costs, benefits of converting fleet to electric with new study

Whatcom County is looking at how it can add electric cars and trucks to its fleet, part of a countywide effort to reduce greenhouse gases through its Climate Action Plan.

County Council members authorized spending $80,000 for a study to learn what’s needed to get plugged in.

Climate Action Manager Lauren Clemens said the county has no electric cars or trucks.

“We are looking to the study to identify near-term opportunities for light-duty vehicles (automobiles, SUVs, and trucks), as well as work with Puget Sound Energy to identify infrastructure constraints at county facilities with a focus on the maintenance and operations shop,” Clemens told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

Public Works Director Elizabeth Kosa said Makers Architecture and Urban Design will examine the kinds of cars, trucks and other vehicles that use gas and diesel fuel and whether suitable EV replacements exist, along with cost to buy EVs and install chargers and other infrastructure.

“The Whatcom County fleet electrification study will be essential to understanding utility infrastructure constraints as well as evaluating the suitability of the application for which the vehicles will be used prior to purchasing electric alternatives for the current fleet. The county is looking to take advantage of fleet electrification grants available through state and federal agencies, and after the study is completed, the County will have a better sense of which grants to pursue,” Kosa said.

In a March 16 memo to County Executive Satpal Sidhu, Clemens and Natural Resources Division Manager Gary Stoyka said the Whatcom County Climate Action Plan recommends undertaking “an evaluation of on-road vehicle fleet to achieve maximum greenhouse gas reductions. Considerations should include moving away from fossil fuels to electricity (EVs) and other clean fuels, the matching of vehicle numbers and types to their uses, and the potential for vehicle-sharing among county departments.”

Bellingham takes the lead

Officials in Bellingham have a jump-start on going electric, and about 24% of the city’s fleet uses alternative fuels, Public Works Department spokeswoman Torhil Ramsay told The Herald in an email.

“The city of Bellingham has been working to reduce carbon emissions in our fleet overall, so we have been purchasing hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric vehicles when it makes economic sense, and the technology meets our needs,” Ramsay said.

“We currently have 92 vehicles in our fleet that are either hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or fully electric. Of those 92, 36 are fully electric. We have electric pick-up trucks, cargo vans, utility carts, passenger sedans and SUVs,” she said.

“We also have 25 e-bikes and four e-scooters for staff to use for shorter trips” around town, Ramsay said.

EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids are cheaper to maintain, and the government purchase price is reasonably comparable, she said,.

The police department is using hybrid SUVs for their patrol cars.

“We do not currently have plans for an electric ambulance, snow plow or fire engine, but we continue to watch as the technology in this area expands,” Ramsay said.