Truck stop electrification towers pulled out

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2012

SALISBURY — A major air quality project at a Rowan County truck stop that was paid for in large part with public money has ended after less than three years of use.
Federal grants worth $500,000 covered most of the cost of anti-idling equipment at Derrick Travel Plaza, which was installed in 2010 but recently removed.
Pomp and circumstance surrounded both a grant announcement in 2004 and the installation of the $760,000 truck stop electrification project six years later. The project was supposed to improve air quality by encouraging truck drivers to shut down their engines overnight and plug into an electric tower instead.
The project was one of the biggest initiatives focused on improving air quality in Rowan County, said Dr. John Wear, director of the Catawba College Center for the Environment.
The project involved multiple government and private entities.
“It’s a shame to spend that many years for this group to have made this happen, and within three years it’s already gone,” Wear said.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Director Mike Leavitt appeared at Derrick’s in 2004 to present a $100,000 EPA grant to Rowan County commissioners and Pat McCrory, North Carolina’s governor-elect who was then mayor of Charlotte.
The Centralina Council of Governments landed federal grants for the project, including $400,000 in Congestion Mitigation for Air Quality funding. The truck stop project comprised 60 percent of CMAQ funding for Rowan and Cabarrus counties in 2006.
The grants helped pay for 25 service towers at Derrick’s that allowed 50 truck drivers to pull up and plug in to heat, air conditioning, cable TV, electricity and Internet for a fee.
Centralina partnered with CabAire, a company based in Enfield, Conn., that built the electrification project and contributed $260,000.
The towers came down after Derrick’s was sold last month to Love’s Travel Stops, which plans to demolish the truck stop and construct a new one. The site has been cleared except for the building and a chapel.
Love’s did not remove the electrification towers or clear the site, spokeswoman Kyla Turner said.
Turner said Derrick’s former owner VPS Convenience Stores of Wilmington had ended its agreement with Cab-Aire before Love’s bought the property.
Love’s will not reinstall the electrification towers, Turner said. She said she doesn’t know what happened to them.
“That was an agreement made before us and canceled,” she said. “… We are not going to assume any remaining terms on an agreement that was not ours to begin with.”
Contracts signed in 2008 and obtained Thursday by the Post said the Congestion Mitigation for Air Quality grant must be repaid in full if the project was terminated within three years.
The contracts are between CabAire and Derrick’s owner VPS-Worsley Operating Corp., as well as CabAire and Centralina.
According to a grant repayment schedule, VPS-Worsley must pay CabAire $400,000 if the project ends within three years. But the reimbursement amount falls to just $78,513 if the projects ends in the fourth year.
CabAire would owe the same amounts to Centralina to repay the grant.
The contracts were effective September 2008 and October 2008. It was not clear Thursday when VPS-Worsley terminated the contract with CabAire and how much money, if any, will be repaid.
Officials from CabAire and Centralina could not be reached for comment.
A spokeswoman for VPS said she is researching the issue.
Derrick’s had the third truck stop electrification project in North Carolina, which was considered a model for more to come.
“This is my pet project here, and it’s going to be a winner,” Jim Bianco, president and CEO of CabAire, said in 2009.
Long-haul drivers often run their diesel engines all night so they can live and sleep in their cab.
Truck stop electrification encourages drivers to turn off their engines, saving fuel and improving air quality, especially important in Rowan County where ground-level ozone pollution is a problem.
But in general, the systems are not well-used, Love’s spokeswoman Turner said.
Love’s has a handful of electrification projects throughout the country.
“They are under-utilized by truck drivers, and they sometimes complain about them,” she said. “They take up a lot of room.”
Love’s is looking at other ways to improve air quality, Turner said.
Diesel engines face stringent air quality requirements, and modern truck engines have much lower emissions, she said.
Love’s new truck stop in Salisbury will offer diesel exhaust fluid at the pump, which further reduces emissions, Turner said. The additive is so effective, Love’s is retrofitting all of its older travel stops with bulk DEF at the pumps, she said. “We see it kind of going more that direction,” Turner said.
Love’s is also looking at alternative fuels such as natural gas, rather than expanding electrification. “That has been an expensive system that is severely under-utilized,” Turner said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.