By Joanne Tucker
In an electric vehicle pilot project, Central Maine Power Co. (CMP) based in Augusta, Maine and subsidiary of Iberdrola USA, began testing the use of four plug-in hybrid vehicles back in August 2012. Since the start of this project, which tested two Chevrolet Volts and two bucket trucks with Terex Hypower hybrid systems installed, CMP has purchased an additional seven hybrid bucket trucks, according to CMP spokesperson Gail Rice.
For the hybrid bucket trucks, the vehicles are diesel powered but all components run off the on-board battery, including the power take-off to run the boom. This enables the techs to shut down engines on site instead of idling to get their work done.
As one lineworker reported to CMP about the hybrid trucks: “It’s very quiet, which is nice for many reasons — working in neighborhoods at night, the engine isn’t running on high idle, it’s easy to talk to the groundman, and I imagine it could save lots on fuel.”
Rice said the hybrid buckets achieve an average of 1.5-2.5 miles more per gallon compared to the regular bucket trucks in CMP’s fleet. She also noted that maintenance costs are comparable to the standard model. “The general consensus is that personnel operating the trucks appreciate the quiet, fume-free operation at a job site,” she added.
While the company, which is Maine’s largest electric utility, hasn’t purchased any additional Volts since the pilot project, Rice reports that the vehicles have received nothing but “rave” reviews, and offered some of the comments from drivers:
“It handled really well, even in snow. A lot of people here in southern Maine are very interested in green technologies, and they seemed really impressed to see that CMP was looking at hybrid vehicles like this one.”
“It is a nice ride, very comfortable, and there’s plenty of room in the trunk if you need to carry equipment. The shift from the battery to the gas-powered generator is seamless, and even when the generator is using fuel, the mileage is excellent.”
Rice added that the Volts have also received considerable attention on the road, thanks to the custom CMP graphics. “People sometimes will stop and ask questions, so the cars are equipped with fact sheets that cover basic topics like charge time, range, and fuel economy,” she said.
In terms of fuel economy for CMP, one service center manager, who has been using a Volt for the past year in both city and highway driving conditions, is reporting an average fuel economy of about 56 miles per gallon equivalent and is fueling up about every week and a half.
CMP has also installed level 2 charging stations at its corporate headquarters to help increase charge times, though Volts are also charged at home on regular 110-volt outlets.
As to CMP’s future of incorporating more EVs into fleet since starting this pilot program, Rice said the company will continue to evaluate the performance and maintenance costs of its hybrid vehicles. “If they continue to work as well or better than the standard buckets, it is possible that more could be added to the fleet in the future,” she said. “Our company is always looking for ways to deliver power to our customers in an environmentally responsible manner, and these hybrid vehicles support that effort.”