The town council has started discussions on crafting a comprehensive environmental innovation strategy for Queen Creek.
Ramona Simpson, Public Works Environmental Operations manager on April 5 asked for its input on electric vehicles and charging stations, adding solar power at town facilities, and funding for projects if the council decides to pursue the plan.
“With the innovations that are going around the country, a lot of council members, town management, and staff have received inquiries and solicitations from various environmental groups saying that they can help us with our sustainability efforts,” Simpson said.
“In an effort to try and consolidate those we are bringing forward some options for the council to consider,” she told the council.
The town is dipping its toe into the electric vehicle market, for example, as fleet electrification is an area of opportunity.
“We have three Chevy Volts that are part of our fleet,” Simpson said. “We are slated to get a Chevy Silverado EV.
“It’s going to be a work truck and the point of that is to see what works for the field staff and to make sure that it can actually pull a tractor across town and still come back.”
Simpson said the Silverado will be given a test run to see how well it works in the field before deciding whether to make a larger investment.
“It could power your house,” she said. “But can it really pull a tractor? We’re not quite sure.”
The town government currently has two EV charging stations.
“As the fleet manager, I don’t want us to move into this space too quickly and not have the infrastructure to support our needed services,” Simpson said, adding that as many as 122 light-duty vehicles could be involved if the test run works out well.
Queen Creek is also considering solar panels for existing town buildings, including the library, which is already equipped for installation.
“It was built to have solar on it,” Simpson said. “It’s built from sustainable materials.”
She said if the town does elect to proceed with equipping the library with solar technology, it will achieve Platinum LEED certification.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the most widely used green building certification in the world, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.
Simpson added the private sector is entering the EV charging market in Queen Creek as the demand and availability of electric cars grows and she identified charging stations as a potential investment area.
“I think we have three or four in town,” she said. “If you’ve driven around there are lots and lots of electric vehicles that are starting to come through town.”
She said the town’s innovation study could identify areas of opportunity where travel corridors mesh with the town’s economic objectives, resulting in public-private partnerships to install charging stations in public spaces. “Not that we have to own it and run it,” Simpson said.
Simpson acknowledged all of this would have to be planned with the proper infrastructure in mind.
She said the study would answer those questions and help the town determine what needs to be installed now so that Queen Creek is ready in the future.
But that leaves questions for the council on spending.
“Where is the infrastructure? What should we be putting in now while we are building new buildings,” Simpson said. “Even if we’re not ready for EV quite yet, should we put fiber and electricity and work with SRP on what the load is?”
All this will take money, said Simpson, who offered as at least one option: a block grant available from the U.S. Department of Energy to help local governments improve energy efficiency.
Simpson said that money would be used for consultant research.
Councilman Robin Benning, while supportive of alternative energy infrastructure, said access to it must be equitable and available to all residents.
“We are a relatively affluent community,” Benning said. “Unfortunately, electric vehicles for example can be very pricey and are difficult to include for many families.
“One of the things that we’re talking about in the planning world right now is equity and making sure that we are making things available to all of our residents, not just the most affluent,” he added.
He added it is important that Queen Creek not compete with private investors by offering free EV charging stations while there are companies trying to make money with theirs. “It certainly is obvious that there are major climate challenges,” he said. “And we need to do everything we can to try to offer options and reduce our demand on coal and fossil fuels.”
Councilman Bryan McClure suggested working with Queen Creek’s agritainment venues to install EV charging stations in a public-private partnership and Councilwoman Dawn Oliphant supported grant money to invest in the study.
Both expressed interest in a feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis moving forward.
“I differ,” Councilwoman Leah Martineau said. “I personally don’t care if we move forward with this study. I already know that I would not support charging stations.
“I really don’t have a lot of interest in even pursuing the fleet. I know I’m just one voice. I’m not convinced that’s a great thing to do right now, or maybe even ever. I don’t love using federal dollars. There’s always strings attached and I don’t want any,” she added.
Martineau expressed some interest in installing solar panels at public buildings to charge equipment for first responders.
But she said the town has other priorities to pursue before studying an innovation strategy plan.
“I don’t see the need to move forward with the study at this time,” she said.
Councilman Travis Padilla speculated that investing town money in public-private partnerships could rob the private sector of opportunities or wind up wasting taxpayer investment when a company built on that investment created something more efficient.
“Whatever the town does, I don’t want us to get ahead of the private market, have our tax dollars wasted, do something worse that the private sector is going to do, and rob them of the opportunity to get involved in something that, really, we’re not experts at and they are,” Padilla said.
Mayor Julia Wheatley cautioned against rushing into public-private partnerships so that the town does not compete with private investors.
“How can we help that private industry come in and be successful?” she said.
“It is unanimous that we don’t want to compete with private industry and that nobody is interested in (the town) building charging stations,” Benning added.
“Nobody up here suggested we wanted to build charging stations in a competitive role with private entities.”
The council will vote on the plan in the future. The block grant is already waiting for Queen Creek if it applies, however, according to Town Manager Bruce Gardner.
“The town has already been earmarked for that grant,” Gardner said. “We just have to apply for it.”
The dollar amount of the grant is still not determined, Gardner said.