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State unveils new electric maintenance truck
Gov. Brian Schweitzer and his border collie, Jag, finish a quick drive around the Capitol Complex in Helena on Tuesday in an electric truck the state recently added to its fleet. The zero-emissions vehicle will be fueled by solar energy.
ELIZA WILEY/Independent Record

HELENA - With his dog riding shotgun, Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Tuesday took a spin in a new electric truck the state bought for maintenance work around the Capitol Complex.

The small truck has zero emissions and soon will be fueled by solar energy from batteries in the campus boiler plant.

For now, it's being charged by electricity at a cost of 70 cents a day. The Miles ZX40St electric vehicle, purchased from Eco Auto Inc. of Bozeman for $17,695, gets 50 to 60 miles per charge.

The truck wouldn't start immediately, but did once the passenger-side seat belt was fastened around Schweitzer's border collie, Jag.

Schweitzer drove the small white truck around the oval immediately south of the Capitol a couple of times and emerged from the vehicle with a smile.

"The nice thing about this car is it doesn't use gasoline," Schweitzer said. "It is clear we have got to decrease our consumption of oil. The last time I looked, we are not going to run out of solar and wind."

Schweitzer has a 20-by-10 energy initiative that directs state government agencies to reduce their energy consumption by 20 percent by 2010.

He praised the Department of Administration for buying the vehicle for its General Services Division employees to use for maintenance work.

State officials recently saw the truck demonstrated at an energy fair sponsored by the state Labor Department. After a test drive, they decided the electric truck would be a suitable replacement for the pickup trucks now used by state maintenance workers.

Asked if more state purchases of electric trucks might be in offing, Schweitzer said, "If it works. If this is able to replace a portion of our fleet, why wouldn't we get more of them?"

There's not much under the truck's hood. It is powered by six batteries under the vehicle, with a seventh battery providing electricity for accessories such as heating and air conditioning. It has two gears - forward and reverse - and beeps while backing up.

The campus boiler plant has some solar panels on its roof from a NorthWestern Energy demonstration project in 2002. Those soon will be hooked up to charge the truck nightly.

If the truck came in a four-wheel-drive model, Schweitzer said, he'd consider buying one for his ranch.

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