Sonoma County, Calif.'s Electric-Car Infusion

A total of 31 new all-electric Ford Focus sedans will soon be humming down Sonoma County roads, thanks in part to a federal grant.

by Kevin McCallum, McClatchy News Service / July 9, 2014

Sonoma County is playing a major role in what is being billed as the single largest government purchase of the electric vehicles in the nation.

More than a third of the 90 vehicles being purchased by a collective of 10 Bay Area government agencies are headed to Sonoma County in a bid to reduce fuel costs and demonstrate environmental leadership.

A total of 31 new all-electric Ford Focus sedans will soon be humming down Sonoma County roads and in some cases recharging their lithium-ion batteries with solar panels, thanks in part to a federal grant.

"It looks pretty good to have all those Focuses lined up at our charging stations," said Cordell Stillman, deputy chief engineer at the Sonoma County Water Agency.

The Water Agency took delivery of its five vehicles last week. Santa Rosa is getting four and Sonoma County is set to receive 22. The purchases were made possible by a $2.8 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional transportation agency.

The vehicles will save more than $500,000 in fuel costs and about 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over five years, Bay Area Climate Collaborative Executive Director Rafael Reyes said Tuesday.

The collaborative -- a public-private initiative of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group that was started by three Bay Area mayors -- developed the proposal for funding that was submitted to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

"The Bay Area is clearly in a leadership role here," Reyes said.

The agencies paid for the value of a standard Ford Focus, while the grant funds paid the extra cost of the all-electric version of the 2014 sedan, explained Jon Merian, the superintendent of Santa Rosa's fleet of vehicles.

For example, Santa Rosa is paying $23,740, which is the cost of a gasoline-powered Focus, while a federal grant is kicking in an additional $10,393 per vehicle to meet the total cost of $34,133 per all-electric model, according to a city staff report.

All 31 Focuses were sold as part of a competitive bidding process by Hansel Ford. They will replace gasoline-powered vehicles that were nearing the end of their life cycles.

Santa Rosa has owned electric vehicles in the past, but previous models were leased and turned back to the dealer at the end of those contracts, Merian said.

The new Focuses will be the only road-worthy all-electric vehicles in the city's fleet, aside from two non-functioning electric pickups and some golf-cart like vehicles for transportation around specific facilities, he said.

"This will help us with our climate protection goals," Merian said.

The new Focuses make practical and financial sense because their range is a significant improvement over previous all-electric models, Merian said.

According to Ford, the Focuses can travel an average of 76 miles on a single charge. The company claims the cars get the equivalent of 110 mpg in city driving conditions. They take four hours to recharge on a 220-volt plug, according to Ford.

Because of the range limitation, the cars probably won't be used for longer trips to cities like San Francisco or Sacramento, Stillman said. For those drives, the water agency's fleet of gas-electric hybrids will be more practical.

The Focuses will be perfect for trips around Sonoma County, such as between the agency's Aviation Boulevard headquarters and Sonoma Valley treatment plant or educational center on the Russian River in Forestville, Stillman said.

The grant funds also include money for the installation of five new electric charging stations. Presently the agency only has charging stations at its administrative headquarters, where a large solar array allows the vehicles to at times be powered solely by the sun, Stillman said.

The other seven entities participating in the grant are San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Fremont, Concord, the Marin Municipal Water District and Alameda County.

©2014 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)