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What happens when a city fleet goes electric? In the case of Vacaville, CA, it charges up the whole town.


It wouldn't be easy.

"CalTrans administers the CMAQ dollars," Huestis explains. "They get the money from the feds, but at the state level they approve the projects, and then we work with local assistance groups to define the scope of the project. Even though CalTrans headquarters had already approved the project, the local assistance guys said 'We've never done this before. This must not be eligible.' Real status quo kind of thing."

But Huestis and the status quo don't get along real well. It wasn't long before Huestis was appealing to CalTrans headquarters to talk some sense into the local authorities, and allow him to use CMAQ funds to buy down the cost of electric vehicles for Vacaville residents as well as the city fleet. "HQ got back to the local assistance group and said 'We want our name attached to this. You go back to Vacaville and do this,'" he says.

"No one had ever done this before, using this pot of money to buy the cost down for the public," Huestis explains. "You can use it for the fleets, but EV1 didn't seem to be appropriate for most fleets. But we certainly wanted our residents to be driving these in town. And we didn't want the public to see us driving alternative fuel vehicles in the city fleet and saying, 'See, they get to do that, but what about us?'

"So I was always trying to put myself in the position of our residents, because I am one," he says. "We need to have these driven on the freeway. We need people to see these on the freeway so they know, 'Okay, there is something else out there. I should look into this.'"

So, within certain restrictions--the money has to be for public good, and it can only go towards the incremental costs--Huestis set up a program where the city would offer residents a $5,000 buydown on the vehicle and $1,000 to put the charger in the garage. "(CalTrans) said we couldn't offer the $1,000 because the charger at home only benefits the individual," Huestis says. "So, I said, 'Okay, we'll make it $6,000 for buying the car, and they can spend it any way they want,' and that was acceptable to them."

And so, the City of Vacaville Electric Vehicle Program was born. "At least nobody else has to go through that drill that we had to go through," Huestis concludes. "It took six months to get it approved."
Now he just needed two things: people and cars.

RARING TO GO

With $300,000 in funding for 1999, Huestis went right to work getting electric vehicles into Vacaville driveways, and building public charging stations all over town.

"Because we wanted several people to get into that vehicle by the end of the year--there were some Federal tax breaks available, and people wanted to take advantage of that--there were five of us who got approval on December 21, and took delivery on Christmas," he says. Those five GM EV1 electric coupes came with nickel-metal-hydride batteries instead of lead acid batteries; this gave the vehicles greater range than previous models, but the batteries also got quite hot. Kind of a problem in central California, but Huestis and his acolytes were overjoyed to have such a problem if it meant not spending a cent on gasoline.

At the same time the electric vehicles were appearing around town, public charging stations were springing up all over the place. Huestis felt it was necessary to have public charging stations readily accessible at every Vacaville exit along I-80, but a few other locations became just as important as the process developed.

The Vacaville City Hall boasts nine electric vehicle public charging stations powered by a 30 kW photovoltaic array on the roof of the building. The city's Park and Ride lot features six public charging stations, powered by a 45 kW solar array. Five charging stations are located in the town's Costco parking lot ("We contacted them before they started building," Huestis says. "We said that if they lay the conduit, which hardly costs them a thing, we'll install the charging units. It's more aesthetically pleasing, and costs less, than if we had to come back after the fact and dig trenches"); two more charging stations can be found in the parking lot of a popular local bowling alley. Several more popped up in the neighboring communities of Dixon and Rio Vista. "We have 47 charging stations between the three cities," Huestis notes. "No one ever has to wait."

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