Proposal for electric vehicles for Athol departments will need revisions

Assistant Public Works Director Paul Raskevitz (left) and DPW Director Dick Kilhart discuss the department's request for the purchase of two all-electric vehicles for the sewer and water divisions during last week's Capital Program Committee meeting.

Assistant Public Works Director Paul Raskevitz (left) and DPW Director Dick Kilhart discuss the department's request for the purchase of two all-electric vehicles for the sewer and water divisions during last week's Capital Program Committee meeting. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-26-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL – A proposal from the town’s Public Works Department to purchase two all-electric vehicles (EVs) was met with some skepticism at last week’s Capital Program Committee meeting as it begins a review of FY25 capital expenditure requests from various departments.

The DPW request included the purchase of two 2024 KONA Electric SEs – one each for the department’s water and sewer divisions. The department is seeking a total of $90,000 for the two SUVs.

The town’s Municipal Decarbonization Task Force is recommending a move to electrical vehicles in all town departments with the goal of making EVs account for 20 percent of the entire municipal light duty vehicle fleet by 2030. The task force has set a goal of 10 percent of all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by that same date.

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has set a goal of reducing statewide carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030, and net zero (85 percent) by 2050.

Before DPW Assistant Director Paul Raskevitz could speak on the proposal for the EVs, Capital Program Committee member Gino Tontodonato asked why an EV chosen instead of a hybrid.

“We just went with what we figured our needs would be for the water and the sewer (divisions),” Raskevitz responded. “They’re going to be driving minimal miles each day.”

Raskevitz explained that the Sewer Division makes daily trips to Royalston under the intermunicipal agreement which gives operational control of Royalston’s sewage treatment plant to Athol. He said at most, the vehicles would travel an estimated 25 miles a day.

“We think that’s all we need,” Raskevitz said.

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Asked by Tontodonato if the vehicles would be kept in a garage, Raskevitz answered in the affirmative.

“I’m going to go on the record,” said DPW Director Dick Kilhart, “I’m not sold on all this electric car technology. I do know that here in Massachusetts – and we have a decarbonization committee – the first folks they look at on that list to start meeting some of these requirements, the DPW is at the top of that list…This is a gentle way for all of us to get on board and say ‘yes.’

“In those applications that we do,” he continued, “the town of Royalston is paying the town of Athol $65,000 a year to operate their wastewater treatment plant during our normal working hours. They (sewer division workers) are now taking an F-350 pickup back and forth to Royalston every day, five days a week, sometimes six, sometimes seven. This, to me, for those trips and for lift station trips where there’s not a lot of tools that need to be put in the back, to me this makes great sense, and it seems as though it would really pay for itself in a relatively short period of time.”

“Personally,” said CPC Chair Jim Smith, “I don’t think we’re ready, not as a municipality, to even touch electrical vehicles right now…I would have loved to have seen a different avenue for travel, like a hybrid – another choice. I agree, you’re now driving something that gets eight miles a gallon.”

Tontodonato reference a recent incident that occurred in Chicago during which Tesla owners found their EVs’ batteries had died in sub-zero temperatures. Other drivers said Tesla charging stations weren’t working, or if they did work, that the stations were taking longer than usual to charge their vehicles.

“We were thinking plug-in hybrids,” said Raskevitz, “but we’re going to put such minimal miles on these each day that, in my mind, the gas options are never going to kick on.”

At the urging of Smith, Tontodonato, and other CPC members, Kilhart and Raskevitz agreed to look into options other than EVs that might meet the water and sewer divisions’ needs. The two said they would return to the committee soon with an alternative proposal which, they hope, will be acceptable.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.