The City of Newark is purchasing three electric vehicles, the first step of a long-term plan to transition its fleet away from gas-powered vehicles.

On Monday, city council approved spending $89,000 to buy three 2021 Nissan Leaf S Plus cars from Porter Nissan on Cleveland Avenue.

The new vehicles will replace two Ford Focuses and one Ford Ranger pickup truck – all 10 or more years old – that were already scheduled for replacement. The new vehicles will be used by the electric, stormwater and parking departments.

“The city is becoming a leader, if not the leader, in municipal EV use in the state of Delaware,” said Jeff Martindale, chief purchasing and personnel officer for the city.

Lewes and New Castle are the only other Delaware towns that use electric vehicles, and they have two or fewer, meaning Newark will surpass them, according to Martindale.

The Nissan Leaf S Plus has a range of 226 miles – enough to drive to Washington, D.C., and back on a single charge.

“Obviously, with Newark being nine square miles, it’s not something we need to worry about too frequently, but it’s a good option to have and it will cut down on charging time,” Martindale said.

Three charging stations will be installed within the next month. One will be located in the parking lot behind the Main Street Galleria, and two will be installed at city hall on South Main Street. Each will be able to charge two vehicles at the same time.

The charging stations will cost a total of $30,000, but the entire cost will be covered by state rebates and the city’s green energy fund. They will accommodate city-owned vehicles and also will be available to members of the public, who will be able to pay to use them through an app or a kiosk attached to the charging station.

City officials plan to buy more electric vehicles as long as the first ones work out as expected. The electric vehicles will be phased in, being purchased only when an existing vehicle is slated for replacement.

Martindale credited Newark resident Andrew O’Donnell with leading the push for converting to electric vehicles.

“He taught me most of what I know about EVs today,” Martindale said. “So he played a major role in getting EVs into Newark’s fleet.”

Two years ago, O’Donnell presented research on the issue to the Conservation Advisory Commission and then to city council. Ultimately, council directed city staff to replace aging vehicles with electric-powered versions wherever possible.

In 2019, O’Donnell estimated the city could save $120,000 by purchasing 11 electric vehicles over the next five years. Electric cars can sometimes be purchased cheaper than other cars because they are eligible for federal and state rebates, he said.

Fuel savings would add up to another $3,000 per year, and maintenance costs are usually lower for electric vehicles, according to O’Donnell, who drives a 2018 Nissan Leaf.

“These first three city EVs will be very appropriate for the duties that they are assigned to accomplish while improving occupant safety and reducing overall costs, maintenance needs and the city’s carbon footprint,” O’Donnell said Monday.

He noted that the drawbacks to the first generation of electric vehicles – namely a short range and lack of charging infrastructure – have been resolved but the negative reputation has been hard to shake.

“I am confident that the best thing that these first city EVs will do is to prove that EVs have matured and are ready to replace every internal combustion engine going forward, just as the internal combustion engine replaced horses 100 years ago,” O’Donnell said.

Mayor Jerry Clifton noted that the purchase is the first step in a new direction for Newark.

“This will definitely be turning over a new Leaf,” he quipped.

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