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Orange County public vehicles recognized as NC Smart Fleet

Orange County is well on the way to bringing its fleet into the space age. 

The county's public vehicle fleet was one of 10 in the state recognized as having an N.C. Smart Fleet, acknowledging efforts to cut down on emissions from town vehicles. Chapel Hill was also a recipient of the award.

Lacey Jane Wolfe, coordinator of the Triangle Clean Cities Coalition, said 2014 is the first year of the awards, which were based on data from one to three years of fleet traffic. She said the award was given to Orange County following several years’ worth of effort to reduce dependence on petroleum.

Jeff Thompson, director of asset management services for Orange County, said the effort was focused on reducing fuel load and teaching drivers more fuel-conserving driving habits.

“This is exciting from an educational and sustainability standpoint,” Thompson said.

He also said the county’s success came from being in a region that is supportive of alternative fuels, and the Orange County Board of Commissioners is interested in being a leader in this field.

The fleet includes emergency vehicles, waste management and public transportation but also reaches out to the community with facilities like electric vehicle charging stations.

Thompson said the county was looking at alternative fuels other than electricity but was interested in installing DC fast chargers, which can charge an electric car in a matter of minutes.

“It’s the next step in the future of electric vehicles," he said. 

Barry Lowry, fleet manager of Chapel Hill Public Works, said the award was a great barometer for the town’s goals.

“We’re committed to decreasing our carbon footprint, and this award speaks to that,” Lowry said.

Lowry said the town has made progress with regards to alternative fuel. Four years ago, 80 percent of the police fleet burned unleaded petroleum. Now, most of the police fleet uses E85, an ethanol-based alternative fuel.

He said Chapel Hill uses compressed natural gas, biodiesel and hybrid electric vehicles in pursuit of alternative fuels, but one difficult aspect is determining which technologies will be sustainable.

“You really have to understand the way the tech is going and how it is going to apply to what we as a town do,” Lowry said.

Chapel Hill was given a Champion level award for reducing emissions all three years, while Orange County was given a Leader level award for reducing emissions from one base level.

The difference in awards also took into account which fleets are creating policies and reaching out to other fleets to follow their lead, Wolfe said. 

Both Orange County and Chapel Hill plan to carry their emission reductions into the future.

“We’re going to continue training and incentivizing folks to keep sustaining,” Thompson said.

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