After years of planning, truck stop electrification project may pay off by late summer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
By late summer, truckers pulling into the Derrick Travel Plaza could have the option of shutting off their engines and connecting to a window console that will supply them air-conditioning, high-speed Internet and cable television.
“The customer is going to see a huge benefit and also the environment,” said Brett McCarthy, vice president of operations for Sun Capital Partners, owner of the Salisbury truck stop on Peeler Road off Interstate 85.
CabAire LLC of Enfield, Conn., will build the $760,000 truck stop electrification project, which will be the third in North Carolina and possibly a model for more to come.
CabAire will install 25 service towers, each offering connections for two trucks or 50 in all.
Because of Wednesday’s rain, officials with the truck stop, CabAire, Rowan County and Centralina Council of Governments gathered in the travel plaza’s chapel for a makeshift groundbreaking event.
The Centralina Council of Governments, with former Rowan County Commissioner Leda Belk as a strong proponent, secured $500,000 in federal grants toward the electrification project almost five years ago, but it has taken years to iron out details and legalities.
“This project has been a long time coming,” said Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer, who serves as chairman of the COG Board of Delegates.
The regional planning agency brings local governments together on common issues such as air quality.
Rowan County is part of a Charlotte region of eight counties in North and South Carolina that has been designated as an ozone non-attainment area.
On the northern edge of the region, Rowan County has two ozone monitors, one of which routinely records some of the highest ambient readings in the state.
The region’s failure to meet federal air quality standards could eventually hurt economic development initiatives and the receipt of money for transportation infrastructure, besides its harmful effects on health, COG Assistant Director Martha Lide said.
Truck stop electrification aims at eliminating truck idling and reducing pollution associated with it.
Besides causing pollution, truck idling wastes fuel and costs truckers dollars. More than a billion gallons of diesel fuel a year are consumed by idling tractor-trailers, Lide said.
It translates to about 1,900 gallons of fuel a year per truck, at a cost of $4,700 a year per rig.
“We’re really thrilled to get going on this project, and we know we’ll breathe a lot easier,” Lide said.
For truck drivers, the idling issue has become more important because of new federal safety regulations requiring them to rest 10 hours for every 11 hours on the road.
COG officials say connecting to idle-reduction technology and turning off their engines will save truckers fuel and money, provide them with better rest and reduce air pollution.
“There’s nothing bad about this,” said Carl Ford, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. “… Hopefully they’ll be building more.”
The country has 133 truck stop electrification locations.
Rowan County Commissioner Raymond Coltrain, a COG board member, said the Derrick Travel Plaza project confirms the need for communities to work together on many issues.
It also represents some forward-thinking, he said.
“Sometimes when you go out on a limb, it’s kind of slippery,” Coltrain added.
Granite Quarry Mayor Mary Ponds said, “I’m glad to see Rowan County ahead of the game.”
The idea for the truck stop electrification started with Belk and COG’s Rebecca Yarbrough. Belk said when she saw a demonstration of the concept in Chicago years ago, she realized Rowan County had plenty of idling trucks stopped along I-85 and the county also had an air-quality problem.
“Centralina picked up the ball and carried it,” Belk said. “… It’s a happy day.”
By connecting to a service tower, usually with a modular console that hangs off a window, a truck no longer has to idle because the console connects it to heating or air-conditioning, block heater power, electrical outlets for in-cab use, the Internet or cable television.
As trucks update and evolve, most will no longer need the window consoles and will be able to have a more simple plug-in to the service tower.
“We put a lot of thought into where we are going,” said Jim Bianco, president and chief executive officer of CabAire.
Bianco said the Derrick Travel Plaza will be a good testing ground for his product. Northern and southern electrification sites have different needs, especially in terms of climate control.
Bianco also wants to see how truckers will use the electrification site, how much they’ll use it and how much they will be willing to pay.
“This is my pet project here, and it’s going to be a winner,” Bianco said.
In 2004, Centralina secured a $100,000 Smartway grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to begin the project. It also received $400,000 in Congestion Mitigation for Air Quality funding to supplement the project.
CabAire’s contribution will be $260,000.
“We believe we have a good template to take this show on the road,” said Jason Wager, a coordinator for COG’s clean fuels coalition.