Cobb County has included electric vehicles (EVs) in its fleet since 2013-2014, and according to county officials the Courier spoke with, that’s only going to increase.
In September, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office put an electric prisoner transport van from Envirotech Vehicles into service. It’s the first such vehicle in use in the state.
We spoke with Cobb County Fleet Director Al Curtis, Sheriff Craig Owens, and Envirotech Vehicles CEO and Chairman of the Board Phillip Oldridge about the new transport van and about the county’s move toward all-electric duty vehicles.
The CEO of Envirotech Vehicles
We first spoke with Phillip Oldridge.
According to Oldridge, the van was one of his company’s purpose-built vans fitted with a custom-built prisoner transport unit. He described the basic layout as follows:
“It’s a transportation unit that is a fully secured separate unit that’s inside the van,” he said. “So you open up the rear van doors, and you have a step and then you open up the doors to the prisoner transport unit. That prisoner transport unit is both heated and air-conditioned.”
“It’s divided in the center,” Oldridge said. “So your prisoners on either side of it.”
What does “Purpose-built” mean?
“Purpose-built means that the vehicle is built as an electric vehicle right from the get-go,” Oldridge said. “So it hasn’t been repurposed. It’s not a retrofit. We’re not removing drive trains and installing an electric drive system.”
“So it’s a purpose-built electric vehicle from the ground up,” he said.
The Courier asked how the van’s performance compares with a standard prisoner transport van with an internal combustion engine.
“It’s very much the same,” he said. “We set the vehicle road speed at 70 miles per hour or 120 kilometers per hour.”
Oldridge said the vehicle could be made to go faster than that, but he couldn’t see the need for it.
“The driving characteristics are exactly the same,” he said, “in terms of the layout, the ergonomics inside the vehicle, power windows, power steering, door locks, all that type of stuff, it’s all exactly the same.”
Charging the battery
Oldridge said that the battery could be recharged at any level two charging station.
“It’s a standard plug, standard fit, and you can plug it in anywhere,” he said.
Oldridge said even a 110-volt source would work, but the standard for recharging is 220-volt stations.
Range of the vehicle on a full charge
“It has a lot to do with the driving characteristics of the driver and whether you’re pulling a lot of mountainous terrains, or whether you’re in unusual road conditions …”
Oldridge said the van is set up for a distance of about 175 miles.
“It will go a little bit further than that, but you never want it to go out (at) 100 percent SOC (state of charge) and come back in with two or three.”
What is the impact of products like the prisoner transport van on the environment?
“If you look at a company like ours, you’ll notice that we specialize in commercial vehicles, commercial transportation,” Oldridge said. “We are not in the consumer space for a number of reasons.”
“I want our company to have a real impact on the environment,” he said. “And people say, well, consumer cars have a lot of impacts.”
“Yes, they do. However, when it comes to commercial transportation and commercialized transportation, by far they have the hugest impact,” he said.
He said the typical consumer electric vehicle like a Nissan LEAF or a Tesla is driven to destinations and then parked.
“So if you look at it at a vehicle like the sheriff’s van, or a commercialized truck that’s a class three or class four delivery truck with diesel engines and stuff in them, they work all day,” Oldridge said.
“And in most cases, these little delivery trucks that are running around the city … spend a lot of time idling,” he said.
Oldridge said that, for example, a prisoner transport van might be parked at the courthouse idling, waiting for detainees to leave the courthouse.
If it’s a van with an internal combustion engine, it will emit environmentally damaging NOx gases while it’s waiting. An electric vehicle doesn’t.
Oldridge described an EV school bus that his company has in production and testing.
“We’re very excited about it,” Oldridge said. “It’s called the Bumblebee and we are releasing it in Q1, to roll it out with new federal government incentives.”
Cobb County Fleet Director Al Curtis
We next spoke with Cobb County Fleet Director Al Curtis.
Curtis began by saying that Cobb County was an early adopter of electric vehicles.
“We’ve had we’ve had fully electric vehicles, starting back in 2013, 2014.” Curtis said. “When they first hit the ground we leveraged the $7,500 tax credit that we had for the state back then, which we don’t have anymore.”
“We leverage that with (the incentive offered by) the feds. So about $14,000 came off the standard price of EV at that particular point,” said Curtis. “We did our data analysis on our departments to see their duty cycle.”
“If total duty cycle for a county vehicle, depending on the department, would average about 50 miles or 40 miles in a daily cycle, electric vehicles would be the perfect fit for it,” he said. “And plus, we are actually moving from the Crown Victorias, which got maybe 10 miles to a gallon of gas, to something that’s more environmentally friendly, and also more sustainable.”
He said that led to a decrease in operational costs as well as being more environmentally friendly.
“When we actually deployed our first Nissan LEAFs, we saved the county roughly between $150,000 to $300,000,” he said.
“This electric van is projected to save us about $40,000 over a three-year cycle (compared with) internal combustion engine,” Curtis said.
Asked how many Nissan LEAFs were deployed, Curtis said about 67, in departments that fit the EV model.
Curtis said that the county received a grant from Nissan for a fast-charging station in 2015 and that the county also received federal grants for more stations. He said that there are now 67 stations spread out across the county.
Asked how many prisoner vans are in the Sheriff’s Office fleet, he said that there are about nine prisoner transport vehicles and that a few of them have reached the end of their life cycle.
Asked if the plan was to replace the vans at the end of their life cycle with more EV vans, Curtis said that Sheriff Craig Owens was “into innovation, the cost saving, and the environment. So why not?”
“The deputies, they like the van,” Curtis said. “It’s quiet, doesn’t produce any emissions, and it has all the standard amenities that a prisoner transport should have.”
Curtis said that American Aluminum outfitted the van with the prisoner transport section and that the company was one of the few with experience in outfitting electric vehicles.
“It was good that American Aluminum stepped out because they knew that this transition is coming,” Curtis said.
He then talked about the typical duty cycle of a vehicle.
“They go maybe 75 miles in a duty cycle as far as range. They do a lot of idling.”
“All the electric vehicles typically have regenerative braking,” he said. “So a stop and start is going to build a battery backup. So this inner city driving is, of course, a sweet spot for electrification.”
Curtis said the electric van has been in active service for about four months. In addition to the van, the Sheriff’s Office has three Mustang Mach-Es that are in the field for serving warrants and other tasks.
Sheriff Craig Owens
Sheriff Owens joined the conversation at that point.
“So, I would tell you this first and foremost, it is great having a partner like Mr. Curtis to go down this road, and I can’t take a lot of credit,” Owens said. “It was Mr. Curtis’s idea and forward-thinking about bringing this type of program to Cobb County for us to be more efficient as a county and specifically us as a sheriff’s office.”
“So it’s been great,” he said. “So far, the prison transport vehicle is being used on a daily basis.”
“Now we’re transporting prisoners back and forth from our County detention center down to our courthouses on the square,” said Owens.
“We’re making local metro Atlanta pickups,” he said.
Owens said the van would have the range to go outside the metro area, but that he did not want to run the risk that his deputies would be out with a van that required a charge because of the long distance traveled.
“At this point, it has been no issues with the vehicle,” he said. “We charge in the evening, drive it all day and park it and charge it and put it back on charge to be ready to go the next day. And it runs all day long without any issue.”
Owens said that the sheriff’s office will be putting electric patrol vehicles in service.
“And again, I think it’s all about saving money for our for our county, doing what’s right for the citizens of Cobb County, and keeping our air clean.”
He said the only complaint he’d received about the van is that the vehicle is so quiet that the deputies don’t know whether it’s running.
There has been discussion of installing a feature that makes enough sound that it’s obvious it’s running.
“We are trying to bring the best technology and energy-efficient vehicles and properties into Cobb County so we can be more efficient and cost-effective for the citizens of Cobb County we serve,” Owens said.