South Portland Director of Code Enforcement Barb Skelton stands with one of the department’s new Hyundai Konas. The city has leased four of the electric vehicles. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

South Portland and Scarborough officials are getting a charge out of rebates from the nonprofit Efficiency Maine on new electric and gas-electric hybrid cars.

Both communities are leasing or exploring the option of leasing energy-efficient cars for municipal use.

Efficiency Maine, an Augusta-based quasi-public nonprofit, started a rebate program in December 2020, offering municipalities as much as $12,000 each for fully electric vehicles and $5,000 for plug-in hybrids. Spokesperson Kate Rankin said the nonprofit has issued 1,081 rebates as of March 31 this year, with 542 rebates for electric vehicles and 539 rebates for plug-in hybrids. To date, she said, the rebates have been issued in all 16 counties and 220 different municipalities.

Along with manufacturer rebates, the Efficiency Maine funds allow South Portland to lease four new Hyundai Konas, said Barb Skelton, director of code enforcement.

The city leased two of the small, four-door, all-electric compact cars for three years with no down payment, and two more for four years with down payments of $3,315 each. There will be no other payments throughout the lease periods. Down payments can be applied toward buying the cars, if the department chooses to do so at the end of the lease period, said South Portland Sustainable Transportation Coordinator Cashel Stewart. The city may instead decide to renew the leases instead, he said.

“It’s entirely possible that a similar (rebate) deal will be available in four years,” Stewart said.

Skelton said, the city’s health inspector, who also works in Skelton’s department, uses an electric car, a Nissan Leaf, which the city has been leasing for 2½ years. That lease ends in January 2022, Skelton said, so the new electric cars will replace the Leaf, along with three of her department’s gasoline-powered vehicles: a Chevrolet Sonic, a Ford Focus and a Ford Crown Victoria that is a former police cruiser. The aging fleet, she said, was due for replacement.

The cars will be used by Skelton’s department for various building inspections, site visits and similar routine business throughout the city. With the new electric vehicles on the road, the only gas-powered vehicle left in the department will be a Ford Escape, which inspectors will use for any off-road work that needs to be done.

The new Konas have a 250-mile range on a full charge, according to Skelton, meaning they won’t need to be fully charged that often.

South Portland Director of Code Enforcement Barb Skelton shows off a charging port for electric vehicles outside her department’s Ocean Street offices. The department already has one electric vehicle, and just leased four more to replace aging gasoline-powered cars used for inspections and site visits. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

“We’re not putting on that many miles in a day’s time frame,” she said.

When they do need charging, the city has two charging stations at the department’s Ocean Street offices, with plans to install a third station that can charge two vehicles at once, Skelton said.

South Portland isn’t the only community eyeing the rebates. Scarborough Sustainability Coordinator Jami Fitch said this week that her town already uses two electric vehicles, and has been planning to buy or lease electric or hybrid vehicles once it came time for gasoline-powered vehicles in the town’s fleet to be replaced.

“The opportunity through Efficiency Maine is kind of speeding up that timeline a bit,” she said.

Fitch said it’s too early to say exactly what the town’s plans are, but officials are seriously considering taking advantage of the rebates to make the move to electric. The planning department, which uses the town’s two electric cars, also has a hybrid and one gasoline-powered vehicle which might be the first to be replaced, she said.

“We’re looking into it,” she said.

Exactly how much money can be saved by switching to electric cars is hard to say. Officials in both towns said the technology is too new to accurately predict long-term costs, but Stewart said he expected keeping South Portland’s cars charged will cost as little as half what it costs to keep the older vehicles topped off with gas. Fitch said electric engines are simpler, with fewer parts to break or replace, which leads to other savings.

“The maintenance costs to EVs are lower,” she said. “There are no oil changes.”

Even Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Matt Sturgis said he found the rebates tempting, but in his town, code enforcement and other inspectors use their personal vehicles and charge the town for mileage. The town, he said, doesn’t have a collection of vehicles to replace.

“We really don’t have a fleet like that,” he said.

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