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City of Charleston seeks grant funding for its first electric garbage trucks

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An image from Lion Electric shows the company’s trash collection vehicle. The city of Charleston recently applied for a federal grant that will help finance the purchase of two new electric garbage trucks that will cost a combined $1.3 million. Lion Electric/Provided

The city of Charleston recently applied for a federal grant to help finance the purchase of two new electric-powered garbage trucks, which will help the city start to eliminate emissions from its fleet of vehicles. 

City Council voted to approve a grant application with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week. 

If the application is accepted, it will provide the city with more than $617,000 that can be put toward the two trucks and the warranties on the vehicles, which cost a combined $1.3 million. 

The remaining $754,000 will then need to be covered by the city in the 2022 budget. 

Matt Alltop, Charleston's Environmental Services manager, said the city has been considering buying battery-powered garbage trucks for several years now. But without the grant, he said, the city might not be able to afford the electric vehicles, which are still a fairly new technology. 

The diesel trucks that the city currently uses to collect trash cost around $290,000 brand new, according to a report presented to council. Meanwhile, the electric garbage trucks cost roughly $581,000 a piece.  

That price difference can make it hard to justify the more environmentally-friendly alternative without the city receiving outside financial help. 

"It's still really expensive compared to a diesel truck," Alltop said. 

Even so, the city is likely to adopt more electric and hybrid vehicles in the future as the technology becomes more common and cost effective.

Katie McKain, the city's new sustainability director, is in the process of putting together a new climate action plan that will examine the city's carbon footprint. 

That plan will lay out various ways the city government and Charleston residents can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that are pumped into the atmosphere every year.

The final report, which is expected to be finished in late April, will also include long-term goals for how the city can transition its fleet of vehicles away from gas and diesel engines. 

The grant application for the new garbage trucks, McKain said, fits perfectly with Charleston's long-term plans to wean itself off of fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming and the rising sea levels that continue to threaten parts of the city. 

"It's just an incredible opportunity," McKain said. 

If the grant application is successful, McKain said, it could provide a great way for the city to compare the operating costs for the electric and diesel trucks to better inform their purchasing decisions moving forward. 

"There's nothing like having your first vehicles and being able to track the data on that," she said. 

Alltop and his team told council members that they already expect some cost savings if they are able to replace two of their existing garbage trucks with the new battery-powered vehicles. Those potential savings include cutting 60 percent of the maintenance costs that exist with the diesel vehicles, and cutting the roughly $58,000 in fuel that is needed to run those vehicles over an eight-year period.  

The electric vehicles would also eliminate most of the noise normally associated with the diesel garbage trucks, which make rounds through neighborhoods in the early morning.  

The garbage trucks the city is looking to buy are capable of operating off battery power for up to 11 hours or up to 120 miles, Alltop said. As a result, the city expects to unleash the vehicles in downtown Charleston first, and expand the city's use from there. 

"It makes it perfect for us on the peninsula," Alltop said. 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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