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Niagara Falls
Saturday, September 30, 2023
Town defers plans to buy electric vehicles
Director of operations Rome D'Angelo helps to present the findings of the fleet review. EVAN LOREE

Niagara-on-the-Lake council has shelved its plans to electrify town vehicles until September after waiting since November 2021 for a report on the state of them.

The decision came June 27 after nearly one hour of discussion with a town consultant that specializes in managing vehicular assets.

While staff recommended council take the report from consulting firm Fleet Challenge and explore new ways to make the town’s vehicles more environmentally friendly, some councillors felt unprepared to move forward.

“There was not enough time to go through everything,” Coun. Sandra O’Connor said. 

The report, presented by Roger Smith, chief executive officer of Fleet Challenge, was 469 pages with six appendices.

O’Connor pointed out councillors only received it June 25, two days before their meeting.

The previous council implemented a climate change adaptation plan in April 2022.

The plan said the municipality would “explore options” to “address the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in relation to the town’s services.”

While supportive of the report, O’Connor said it was “critical” and wanted more time to absorb the information before doing anything with it.

Coun. Erwin Wiens, on the other hand, was reluctant to start swapping gas units for electric ones.

He said the private sector had not found a way to make the switch financially viable yet.

“I don’t think as a small town that we should be experimenting with electric,” he told The Lake Report in an interview later. 

“It’s expensive, right? Because we have to put in all the EV (electric vehicle) stations, we have to buy the vehicles. We don’t know what the resale value is.”

He called the switch “a great unknown” and suggested the town wait and see how other jurisdictions deal with it.

“I am personally not convinced that electric vehicles are greener,” Coun. Maria Mavridis told council.

She added that she wanted to see “more information” to support that claim, but was not specific about what she wanted to see.

Smith said the switch is inevitable. 

“There’s no longer a question of if electric vehicles are coming, it’s a question of when they’re coming. The world is electrifying,” the consultant told council.

He pointed out the Canadian government was pushing to make all new cars electric by 2035.

Smith said electric vehicles are about 25 per cent more expensive than the gas versions and the town would also have to pay for chargers.

In his report he estimated the cost of installing the infrastructure over the next 15 years would be $54,000 per year.

He added “EV (electric vehicle) savings can be significant” once the lower cost of fuel and maintenance is accounted for.

“But to get the vehicles, you have to invest more,” Smith said.

Furthermore, if the town starts investing in electric replacements and charging stations now they could reduce the town’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 per cent by 2036, Smith’s report said

The same report said the town’s vehicles produced 463 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2021. 

And it said gas-powered units could be obsolete by the time the town is ready to replace them, assuming the town continues to keep vehicles as long as it does now.

That means if the town continues to buy gas units it may be unable to recover part of its investment when it looks to replace them in 10to 15 years.

“It’s pointless to keep buying a redundant technology,” Smith said.

In 2021, the trade-in value of all NOTL’s vehicles was $6,093,051, according to Smith’s report.

If the town had to replace every one of them immediately, it would cost the town $18.2 million, the report said.

That’s well above the $11.5 million Smith said the town originally spent.

The consultant’s report suggests the town begin by investing in charging infrastructure.

Coun. Nick Ruller was concerned about going full electric without a contingency plan for power failures.

The town’s operations centre, where the machines would charge, has no back-up generators, he said.

This could put the town in a tough spot in the event of a power failure, he said.

Smith responded that the town should have back-up generators as part of its emergency procedures plan and that “chargers should be on dual feeds,” in case one fails. 

Another problem he identified was the “need for additional resources” to help manage the vehicles.

“In fleet management, or any asset management, if you spend money on capital, operating costs go down,” Smith said.

“If you have an old clunker and you don’t buy a new car you’re gonna be paying operating expenses to keep the thing on the road,” he added.

The town owns 91 vehicles, 53 of which are gas-powered, with 23 running on clear diesel, 13 on coloured diesel, and two on propane.

The town has one mechanic maintaining the 91 vehicles, almost double what one person can manage, Smith said. 

“One person is capable of maintaining 50 vehicles adequately,” he said.

Hiring an additional mechanic was one of 64 recommendations Smith made.

While the town can contract its mechanical needs to a third party, he said it would be much cheaper to keep it in-house.

Another in-house mechanic was one position council cut from this year’s budget during spending discussions in March. 

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