Minneapolis leaders are taking steps to replace the city’s fleet of gas-powered vehicles with electric ones as they look for ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The switch could cost close to $87 million over 10 years — to replace just half of the city’s 980-vehicle fleet. That’s about $9 million more than if the city bought gas-powered vehicles as usual, but the change is expected to save money in fuel and maintenance costs over time.

No U.S. city has fully switched its fleet to electric vehicles, in part because some of the needed technology doesn’t exist. Despite the challenges, Minneapolis council members are expressing interest.

“I want to move forward as aggressively as we possibly can on all of this,” said Council Member Cam Gordon.

Council members have already been aggressive in their efforts to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. In 2011, they passed the Green Fleet Policy, which aims to reduce fleet vehicle emissions. A year later, they set a broader goal to decrease citywide greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2025.

Replacing existing fleet vehicles with electric ones would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an average of nearly 60 percent, according to a report presented to a council committee Tuesday.

There are also potential cost savings over time. Though the price to buy an electric vehicle is higher than buying one that runs on gas or diesel, maintenance and fuel are cheaper. By switching to electric, Minneapolis could save, on average, an estimated $1.3 million in fuel and $1.8 million in maintenance annually, according to the report.

“The fact that we can right now strongly say over 10 years we can switch over 45 percent of the fleet and save money is game-changing,” said Council Member Andrew Johnson.

Money for replacing fleet vehicles at the end of their life cycle comes from monthly fees that Fleet Services collects from city departments. That could help pay for new electric vehicles, along with other funding sources including federal incentives and Minnesota’s portion of the Volkswagen settlement, which the automaker paid to settle allegations that it violated the Clean Air Act.

The city would also need to install charging stations, and the report recommends one station for each electric vehicle. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the most commonly used charging stations range in price from $400 to $6,500.

Council members will decide how to move forward with an electric vehicle transition based on the options outlined in the report, and take action at a future meeting.

Potential roadblocks

Electric vehicle technology hasn’t advanced far enough to replace the city’s entire fleet, which includes a range of vehicles from police cars to snowplows to Bobcats.

Though the electric vehicle marketplace is developing fast, “the time frame to fully convert is out there a ways,” Brette Hjelle, public works director of business administration, told council members Tuesday.

There’s also the issue of how electric vehicles will work in Minnesota winters. Minneapolis acquired three electric Chevrolet Bolts this summer, and staffers are planning to monitor how they perform this winter, Hjelle said.

Early planning will put the city ahead of the curve when the technology becomes available, Council Member Kevin Reich said.

“We can be at the edge of technological advances if we start to get into the game now,” he said. “I think this presents us as a leader in this area if we follow through on what we have before us as a framework.”


Staff writer Adam Belz contributed to this report.