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Spokane, Wash., PD to Purchase Tesla SUVs Despite Resistance

Officials acknowledged the city needs to ready itself for an inevitable transition to electric vehicles but remained adamant in recent weeks that the police department is not yet prepared to use and maintain them.

The emblem of a Tesla Model S.
The emblem of a Tesla Model S.
(TNS) — Turning aside the advice of city officials, the Spokane City Council will force the Spokane Police Department to purchase four new electric patrol cars.

After weeks of debate, the council voted Monday to purchase four Tesla Model Y SUVs, overriding a plan outlined by city officials to purchase two hybrid and two traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

The Tesla purchase was pushed by Council President Breean Beggs, who lamented more than a year of hesitation from city officials to build electric vehicle infrastructure despite a state law that requires local governments to begin replacing old vehicles with electric models "to the extent practicable" by 2018.

"This is a great time to pilot this and see how it works" Beggs said. "It would take essentially one charger to be installed."

City officials acknowledged that Spokane needs to ready itself for an inevitable transition to electric vehicles but remained adamant in recent weeks that the police department is not yet prepared to use and maintain them. They suggested that, at most, the department pilot the use of a single Tesla in 2021.

In a statement following Monday's vote, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the administration is evaluating how to move forward.

"The administration remains concerned about this purchase because of the high cost and lack of EV charging infrastructure to support these vehicles as well as the time that they would be unavailable for use due to charging," Feist said.

An outstanding question leading up to Monday's vote — and answered in a committee meeting beforehand — was whether enough of the police department's patrol vehicles sit unused overnight to allow time for charging.

Nathan Groh, the city's sustainable transportation analyst, told the council Monday that "it seems that we have about half of our patrol vehicles parked at least every day for about 3-4 hours, that would offer some room for charging the proposed electric vehicles."

The Teslas will cost an estimated $418,088.10, and a grant will cover $200,000 of that cost.

Though he acknowledges Spokane is not the only city sluggish to change, Beggs has urged the city to transition to electric vehicles for more than a year. In 2019, he proposed an ordinance that would require the city to comply with state law and transition to electric or biofuel vehicles but held off after receiving assurances from city staff that they would move forward in a matter of months.

Tonya Wallace, the city's chief financial officer, had asked the council this month to delay mandating the electric vehicle purchase until the city can develop a broader plan for electrification in 2021.

"We all understand that electrification of the fleet is the direction we're going, and we just need to roll up our sleeves and get that plan developed," Wallace said.

The city does not have employees trained in the maintenance of electric vehicles, so that work will have to be outsourced. Should it wish to expand its fleet of electric vehicles following the initial pilot, there is broad consensus that the city would need to install more charging stations.

But the electric vehicles are also expected to last longer than the traditional gas-powered vehicle and require less maintenance, Beggs noted.

The vehicles will be able to go about two days without being charged, according to the city's analysis.

©2020 The Spokesman-Review, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.