Originally created 09/17/97

Georgia Power gets in electric vehicle business



Georgia Power wants to compete with Exxon and Smile Gas by encouraging companies with large fleets to buy electric vehicles.

A team of marketing people for the company is in Augusta this week offering test drives in a 1998 Ford Ranger pickup truck powered by 39 eight-volt batteries.

The crew is talking with hospitals, government agencies and businesses that have to buy electric vehicles under the Energy Policy Act and the Clean Air Act. Those federal laws require that light-duty fleets buying light-duty cars and trucks next year must get half of them equipped for alternative fuels.

The Ford truck goes about 60 miles on a charge at speeds up to 75 mph. It accelerates as fast as a gasoline-powered truck at a fraction of the sound.

Recharges cost about $1 per five-hour period, according to Polly Prater, Georgia Power marketing representative. At residential electric rates, the truck operates at 2 cents to 3 cents per mile compared with 4 cents to 5 cents per mile for an internal combustion version.

But then the electric truck, with amenities such as air conditioning, costs $33,000 plus another $1,000 for a charger to wire 220-amp electric outlets in the garage.

The truck can carry a 700-pound payload, but the extra weight can decrease range. While an electric vehicle may not be ideal for long distances, it may be perfect for security officers who need to cruise a campus or military base at slow speeds that can damage a combustion engine, Ms. Prater said.

"This is a real live truck," she said. Many people are surprised at its power and speed until they drive it, she said.

Under the hood are several aluminum boxes where a motor would go, with no recognizable auto parts in sight.

"I think the days of the shade-tree mechanic are pretty much over with these vehicles," said Buddy Walters, a member of Georgia Power's power delivery skills training fleet team. "You don't want to be messing around under this truck" since the risk of shock screams from warning stickers on every appliance under the hood.

Georgia Power is already setting up recharging stations around Atlanta. It hopes to encourage fleet owners to buy electric because most recharging will be done at times when electric power usage is normally low.