ZEPHYRHILLS — For more than a year, Todd Vande Berg, the city's planning and development director, has traveled to work on his electric bicycle instead of making the 2-mile ride in a family car.
His eldest daughter got her license and rather than purchasing another vehicle, he bought the bike with the 36-volt battery. Also, more importantly, he said he wanted to be more environmentally friendly. Vande Berg said he tries to be mindful of living a greener life in general with his family.
"We're trying to walk the walk," he said.
At work, he's leading the charge. When he attended a "green" building conference in Orlando in 2010, he learned about a U.S. Department of Energy grant to promote conservation and the city soon applied. It was awarded $250,000 in part to conduct an energy audit of City Hall and the adjacent library and then use recommendations from the audit to make the buildings more energy efficient.
For months now, City Hall and the library have been getting greener. For the most part, the changes have been subtle. The lights have gotten brighter. After retrofitting, they require fewer bulbs that cast greater light with less energy. The air-conditioning and heating systems are in the process of being replaced in both buildings and digital programmable thermostats have been installed. Some other tweaks have been made here and there to save energy costs and energy resources.
But perhaps the most visible component of the grant funds rolled into the City Hall parking lot March 30 in the form of a 2012 Chevy Volt.
The City Council had earlier voted unanimously to use the grant to purchase the vehicle from Stringray Chevrolet in Plant City for a bid price of $40,700.
City staffers did a lot of research and test driving in recently months before selecting the Volt.
The Volt is billed by Chevrolet as "a full-performance and full-speed electric vehicle with extended range. In its simplest form, Volt operates two ways — in EV mode (battery powered) and extended-range gasoline powered mode."
Chevy estimates that with a fully-charged battery in moderate conditions, drivers will get about 35 miles without having to use gas.
"You're just driving a lot more efficiently and environmentally friendly," Vande Berg said, estimating that most of his driving for city business will be done on full electric.
The car's white body is sleek and doesn't have the space-age look of past electric vehicles that stand out in traffic. No keys come with this vehicle, just a pocket remote like most cars, but without the extra danglers. A click of a button on the car doors, or from the remote, unlocks its doors and a push of blue button starts it up. A touch screen control panel is in the center of the dash, allowing a driver to select the car's driving mode and see its fuel and electric usage. Vande Berg slid behind the wheel late Thursday morning and used its backup cameras to help ease him out of the parking space.
"A safety feature," he boasted. "I think we get a little insurance break off that."
The Volt's ride is smooth. And this car doesn't purr like a kitten.
"Quiet as a mouse," Vande Berg said driving up Seventh Street.
Each time he steps on the brake, it helps recharge the battery by capturing kinetic energy.
Months before in anticipation of purchasing an electric vehicle, the city used about $7,500 from a separate grant to install a charging station in the City Hall parking lot. When Vande Berg fully charged the vehicle in three hours the other day, he estimated that it cost about $1.20. As of now, the public can plug into the station for free.
To really reap the benefits of the electric car, city leaders are considering removing an older, gas guzzling vehicle from the city fleet.
"We could put the vehicle to auction and maybe take the money from the sale of that to buy some more lights for downtown that are more energy efficient," Vande Berg said.
The energy conservation doesn't stop at the electric car, he said. The city's also working on an overall sustainability plan.
"Again, the goal, the intent is to begin the process, not end it, and move forward," Vande Berg said of the city's green efforts. "We want to be the leaders in Pasco County on sustainability and energy efficiency and set that bar high and continue to move in that direction."