The city of Ann Arbor aims to reduce its fleet-related fuel emissions in all city departments by 25 percent by 2025. The goal is part of a partnership with the Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle Purchasing Collaborative — a group consisting of 127 cities, founded by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014 with the intent of accelerating climate progress through local governments.
Missy Stults, Ann Arbor sustainability and innovations manager, said Ann Arbor joined the collaborative with the goal of fully powering all city vehicles with renewable energy. The city has implemented a Green Fleets program since 2004, but created a detailed and revised Green Fleets Policy with specific plans in 2018.
“For the city of Ann Arbor, we’ve got two goals that really made sense for joining the collaborative,” Stults said. “The first one is that we've got a Green Fleets Policy, which we’ve had since 2004, and in 2018, we upped the goal for our fleet that we want to reduce the emissions of our municipal fleets operation 25 percent by 2025. And then the other big goal is that our objective is to be powered, all municipal operations powered with 100 percent clean and renewable energy by the year, at least, by the year 2035.”
Stults discussed how a Green Fleets team is responsible for slowly phasing out the current vehicles with electric ones to maintain economic stability in Ann Arbor. She also noted the team monitors the market and the scientific progress of creating more elaborate electric vehicles, such as garbage trucks.
“We have a green fleets team in the city,” Stults said. “That includes the fleet manager, and then representatives from various different departments … The green fleets team is responsible for looking at fleet that's being retired and thinking about what should come in its place, and weighing the pros and cons of different fleet vehicles.”
Stults cited environmental progress as the leading reason for electrifying Ann Arbor’s fleet, but said electric cars also have lower upkeep costs and can save money in the long run.
“The benefits are a multitude of crazy benefits,” Stults said. “So, the one that I often I drive with, because I care deeply about climate change is, of course, from a climate perspective. And that just rushes out to a slew of benefits.”
Howard Lazarus, Ann Arbor city administrator, agreed with Stults and said while electric vehicles have a higher up-front cost and require charging stations, maintenance costs of the vehicles are much lower and reap significant long-term benefits.
“The electric vehicles have a higher initial cost right now, though that’s coming down,” Lazarus said. “There’s also a cost with putting in the charging infrastructure. The benefits are first its reduction of carbon emissions, and then secondly, we won’t be buying as much fuel as we have been. So, over the long term, the electric vehicles will be more reliable, they’ll be less costly to maintain, and they won’t be as big an energy cost.”
Lazarus noted the decreasing market price of electric vehicles and how, as the city progresses towards its fuel-emission goals, the cost will be similar to more traditional gas-powered cars.
“The incremental cost is not that steep, especially as more and more electrics are put on the market, the unit cost comes down so in the next couple of years there probably won’t be much of a difference,” Lazarus said. “As a whole, the automobile manufacturers are moving towards more electric vehicles … as the market moves, the per-unit cost will come down.”
Engineering junior Ella McBeath, member of environmental organization Woven Wind, said while waiting until 2035 to reduce all fuel-emission vehicles may seem like a long time, a slow transition is necessary.
“I think it is incredibly important that the city realize it has to change its infrastructure to have more clean energy, so it is definitely a step in the right direction,” McBeath said. “It is a good goal just because completely throwing away the cars we have would just be wasteful in that regard.”
McBeath also mentioned the high initial cost of electric vehicles and how a slower phasing out process leaves more money for the city to make environmental progress on other fronts, such as transportation or solar energy.
“That money can be used for other purposes,” McBeath said. “The city has other things and can be working on changing other important environment aspects with that money, not just paying up-front for all these new cars.”
Lazarus discussed how Ann Arbor is hoping to reach many other climate change targets in the near future by working with DTE Energy and other city departments, including the transit authority. He said one of its goals is to make clean and renewable energy more accessible for residents. Lazarus also noted how fortunate Ann Arbor is to have the budget to explore these options.
“We’re moving towards taking the city’s facilities off the electric grid through solar, and we’re working with Detroit Edison on that project,” Lazarus said. “The city’s plans to increase pedestrian and bicycle mobility helps, and we work with the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority to make transit a more viable option as well, and then we also are looking at plans to provide better options for community-wide renewables and solar. So those are things that, within our community, set the tone but also show that a municipal government can do these things and do them efficiently.”
Stults touched on the importance of municipal governments taking action rather than waiting for progress at the national or global level. She cited her previous work experience and claimed the effects of climate change are seen at the local level.
“My background is working with cities, local governments and tribes on climate work, and I’d say this isn’t new,” Stults said. “For the last 20 years, you’ve seen real leadership at the local level. And there's a reason for that. At the local level, it’s where you feel the impacts, right? It’s where you flood, that’s where you have a heatwave. That’s where you have public health emergencies that are tied to natural disasters and climate change.”