Montezuma County took delivery of three new electric vehicles in January as part of an effort to reduce fuel and maintenance costs.
After a year of research, the county purchased three 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EVs to replace three older gasoline SUVs. The front-wheel drive electric vehicles cost $30,100 each.
“It was the most practical decision for replacement vehicles for certain departments,” said Commissioner Jim Candelaria. “Not having fuel costs and oil changes will be a savings for taxpayers. Maintenance on these is pretty minimal.”
The new cars will be used by the Social Services, Information Technology and Health departments.
“It makes sense for those departments because they mostly travel around town and occasionally drive the highway to a nearby town,” said county Administrator Shak Powers.
During a test drive at the county fairgrounds racetrack, county staff showed off attributes and explained the technology under the hood.
The Chevy Bolts have a range of 259 miles and have 200 horsepower, said county fleet manager Shane Higman.
“They have more power than people might think, more than regular cars this size,” he said.
The battery-powered electric engine is recharged when the vehicle travels downhill. A dashboard meter shows how much power has been used and calculates how many miles are left on the charge.
During one 30-mile test drive traveling uphill, downhill and on flat road sections, total battery power depleted showed net zero.
As the battery drains off, power to the vehicle does not diminish, Higman said.
At the end of the day, the Bolts are plugged into a 220-volt charging station at the administration building or county annex. They fully recharge after 10 hours.
If needed mid-trip, charging stations for electric vehicles are in Mancos, Rico, Mesa Verde National Park and Durango.
The county is working with Empire Electric Association to install a Level 1 fast charger in Cortez for public use. A phone app is available that shows locations of charging stations across the state.
Changing cultural perceptions that electric cars are weak has been a bit of a hurdle locally, Higman said.
“They have advanced quite a lot. There was some skepticism with the staff, but after taking a drive, they like them. They drive and accelerate like any other vehicle,” he said.
Besides being efficient, their zero emissions also benefit the environment and reduce the county’s carbon footprint, Candelaria said.
Officials said there is a niche in county government for electric vehicles, but it doesn’t mean they will replace four-wheel-drive trucks, diesel-powered plows, and heavy equipment needed to negotiate rough roads and take care of the county.
During recent meetings, county commissioners have reported plans to install solar panels on county buildings thanks to the affordability of leasing agreements.
The new panels will reduce the county’s electric bill and also help charge the new electric vehicles, commissioners said.
There can be a tendency for some to make renewable energy and even electric vehicles a political issue, for or against, Candelaria said, but he believes the notion is misplaced.
“If it is practical is what matters. If a cost-benefit shows it saves money, why not harness the opportunity?” Candelaria said.