OPINION: Help first responders by supporting energy resiliency

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"Emergency Sign" by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine is licensed under CC0 1.0

First responders and gasoline are a lot alike. Most of us take them for granted and don’t really think about them until we need them.

Unfortunately, natural disasters can hamper the availability of vehicle fuels like gasoline and diesel. Emergency situations become even more critical when first responders are unable to access the fuel needed for their vehicles as well.

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The issue is referred to as energy resiliency. The U.S. Department of Energy defines energy resiliency as “the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions. Resilience includes the ability to withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.”

It is one of the many reasons why sustainable, domestic transportation fuels and vehicles are so important to our nation’s energy resiliency. History has shown their worth as well.

In 2012, Atlantic City, N.J. deployed its fleet of 190 compressed natural gas-fueled buses to shuttle residents to safety during Hurricane Sandy. Propane-fueled trucks were also able to continue to operate and hybrid electric bucket trucks that operate solely on battery power when stationary were used to assist utilities in repairing power lines.

Five years later, Hurricane Harvey caused a 30 percent reduction in refining capacity, but compressed natural gas stations operated without interruption, partially because of natural gas-powered backup generators which helped keep CNG supplies available. As a result, CNG-fueled vehicles were able to assist in relief and recovery efforts.

Locally, the Porter County Sheriff’s Office has positioned itself to better serve residents while helping support energy resiliency as well, with the addition last month of 11 new Ford Police Interceptor Hybrid SUVs. The vehicles were acquired with the assistance of funds from the Indiana Office of Energy Development’s Indiana Rural Energy Innovation grant program. South Shore Clean Cities wrote the successful grant application and serves as project manager.

Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds first learned of the hybrid option at a conference and quickly inquired about their local availability with Don Hadley of Lake Shore Ford in Burns Harbor. Don serves as president of the South Shore Clean Cities Board of Directors and encouraged the Sherriff’s Office to work with us through our Green Fleet program with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.  As a result, we found a funding opportunity with the Indiana Office of Energy Development and wrote the successful grant application, which included the purchase of the vehicles from the local Lake Shore Ford dealership and a pledge to fuel the vehicles with E15 from Valparaiso-based Family Express. E15 is a renewable, domestic fuel containing 15% ethanol which is produced in Indiana, providing even more investment in the local economy.

The new hybrid squads will save taxpayers annually in fuel costs by using 38% less fuel and saving 44,622 gallons of gasoline per year over traditional gasoline vehicles. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, the savings equal the greenhouse gas emission reductions of removing 85 passenger vehicles from the road for one year. Sheriff Reynolds estimates a full fleet of hybrids will save taxpayers about $90,000 a year. That’s something to celebrate.

We hope these efforts encourage other law enforcement agencies to take similar action. Support for these projects not only saves you money as a taxpayer, it helps support energy resiliency.

Plan today for disaster tomorrow by supporting these efforts. Remember, it’s never too late to being your environmental legacy.

This column originally appeared in The Times of Northwest Indiana. Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and vice president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are that of the writers.

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