Sonoma County has embraced electric vehicles for years, with North Bay Nissan of Petaluma selling the nation’s first all-electric Leaf in 2010. As the vehicles go mainstream, county government is getting in on the action.

Using a transportation grant, Sonoma County bought 22 EVs, which officials say will help the county meet its greenhouse gas emission goals while saving money on fuel.

“This is really to demonstrate our environmental leadership,” Supervisor Efren Carrillo said. “But also, it helps reduce our fuel cost. We’re saving taxpayers money on fuel while reducing emissions. It’s truly exciting to be at the forefront as a local government.”

The purchase, which was initially reported in September, is part of a greater Bay Area effort to increase electric vehicles in government fleets. The $2.7 million Metropolitan Transportation Commission grant that helped 10 agencies buy 90 EVs is the largest municipal fleet deployment of electric vehicles in the country, according to the Bay Area Climate Collaborative. The Sonoma County Water Agency also bought five EVs as part of the grant.

“This is one of the most effective steps governments can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector,” said Rafael Reyes, executive director of the Bay Area Climate Collaborative.

Sonoma County’s share of the grant, $519,000, went toward 22 Ford Focus plug-in sedans and the installation of 10 charging stations, said David Worthington, the county’s fleet manager. Those cars are being driven by county social workers and health officials on government business, saving taxpayers 3,837 gallons of fuel, and sparing the environment 32 tons of carbon annually, he said.

“The county wanted to be a leader in greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “Electric vehicles are another way of doing that.”

The new electric cars, purchased from Hansel Ford after a competitive bid process and taking advantage of state and federal incentives for EV buyers, are adding to a county fleet that has won the Government Green Fleet Award at the Green Fleet Forum each of the past five years.

Of the county’s 1,128 vehicles, 250 are hybrid-electric and 329 get more than 30 miles per gallon for a total savings of 166,558 gallons of gasoline over the past 12 years while driving more than 10 million miles, according to the county. Most of the electricity for the county’s EV charging stations is generated by a natural gas fuel cell plant, which is a clean energy source.

“We’re excited to add these vehicles to our fleet,” Jose Obregon, the county director of general services, said in a statement. “On the average, with our on-site stationary fuel cell, we are able to operate these vehicles at a fuel cost that is 83 percent lower than a conventionally powered vehicle.”

The EVs have a range of 60 to 90 miles on a single charge, which will give county employees the confidence to make it to appointments and back, said Liz Yager, the county energy and sustainability manager. It also exposes employees to electric vehicles and makes it more likely that they will buy one for their own use.

Fleet vehicles contribute more than 50 percent of the county’s greenhouse gases, so reductions in tailpipe emissions make a big impact, she said.

“Vehicle miles traveled is the biggest nut to crack countywide as far as emissions,” she said. “Our employees are able to work with virtually zero tailpipe emissions. That’s pretty exciting.”

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