County drives for cleaner air |

County drives for cleaner air

Eileen JoyceNevada County is using a Honda Insight, a gasoline-electric hybrid car.
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Super ultra low-emission hybrid cars and natural gas-burning buses are two ways Nevada County is using grant money allocated under the California Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution.

“Vehicle emissions are a precursor to ozone,” said Ryan Murano, an air control specialist with the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District.

Tail-pipe emissions react with the sun to create ozone, which is the pollutant targeted by programs implemented by air quality districts across the state, Murano said.

Signed into law in 1990, Assembly Bill 2766 authorized air quality districts to impose a $1 to $4 per vehicle motor vehicle registration fee to raise the funds necessary to meet the state’s air quality standards.

“The goal is to reduce the amount of ozone produced,” said Murano, who also wears the hat of AB2766 program manager for the air quality district.

During an average summer, Murano said, western Nevada County records some of the highest ozone levels in the state, thanks to pollutants carried on the wind from the swarm of vehicles that clogs Bay Area roadways.

Children living in communities with high ozone levels are more likely to develop asthma and other respiratory illnesses, according to studies conducted by the California Air Resources Board.

To fund programs aimed at reducing vehicle emissions, the Northern Sierra Air Quality District collects $2 to $4 dollars per registered vehicle in the three counties it oversees: $2 per registered vehicle in Sierra and Plumas counties, and $4 per registered vehicle in Nevada County.

Murano said the money is split between the three counties based on population. Nevada County’s share for the 2002-03 fiscal year is $163,530.

The Nevada County Department of General Service’s Fleet Division will purchase a total of seven super ultra-low emission hybrid vehicles with AB2766 grant funding.

Hybrid cars combine conventional engines with battery powered electric motors for increased fuel economy and reduced emissions.

Last year, $30,000 was granted by the air quality district toward the purchase of two hybrid vehicles. An additional $40,000 has been allocated for the 2002-03 fiscal year toward the purchase of five more.

After trying out the two hybrid vehicles purchased last year, the county proposed to put up the $14,000 it pays for conventional vehicles and the air quality district agreed to pay the $8,000 extra needed to purchase a hybrid, said Rich Reeder, general services manager.

In considering the purchase of the hybrid vehicles, Reeder said the county looked at user acceptance, vehicle performance and cost of ownership.

“Everything came up positive,” Reeder said.

Super ultra-low emission vehicles get between 40 and 70 miles per-gallon, Reeder said, so the difference between the cost of a regular and hybrid vehicle can be made up in gas savings over seven or eight years.

“They run clean and are cost-effective in the long run,” Reeder said.

Hybrid vehicle batteries self-charge when the car decelerates, “so you don’t have to plug it in to charge the battery,” he said.

As for user acceptance and performance, Reeder said county employees really like driving the hybrids.

Behavioral Health worker Susan Beal said she went 447 miles on less than 10 gallons of gas in the county’s Honda Insight hybrid.

“It’s peppy,” Beal said. “It has the get up and go to pass, it rides smooth, and it’s great because it’s small, so I can park anywhere.”

Best of all, hybrid vehicles have reduced emissions to improve air quality, Beal added.

Reeder, who also wears the hat of fleet manager, said the county’s fleet includes 240 vehicles.

“About 60 or 70 are smaller compact cars,” Reeder said. “I’m interested to see how many of those cars we can switch over to hybrids in the next few years.”

Nevada County Transit Services, a division of the Department of Transportation, applied for a AB2766 grant to fund the purchase of six alternative-fueled compressed-natural-gas buses.

Natural-gas engines emit substantially less air pollutants than gasoline or diesel engines.

In the 1998-99 fiscal year, $26,666 was granted toward the purchase of two buses that are now in operation, Murano said. The following year, $60,000 was allocated for the purchase of four more buses, which have yet to be put in operation.

Other programs funded by AB2766 include:

— The Web site: The county’s Department of Information Systems used funding to implement a program aimed at improving air quality by reducing vehicle trips.

Program users can access the site and download public documents on-line from businesses or homes, rather than driving to county offices.

The phased program was granted a total of $120,000 over the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 fiscal years.

— Multimedia video teleconferencing: The county’s Department of Information Systems was allocated $55,000 for fiscal year 2002-03 to electronically connect the county government center in Nevada City to a site in Truckee, which is in the eastern part of the county.

The county touts the program as one that supports greater public access to public meetings and reduces vehicle trips.

— Juvenile arraignment: The county Probation Department was granted $8,283 for the current fiscal year to implement a video conferencing project aimed at promoting emission reduction by reducing vehicle trips.

The video conferencing project will allow juveniles held at the Nevada City detention facility to participate in legal proceedings in Truckee and Sierra County, without making a round trip to those jurisdictions.

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