For the Fleet Services Div. of Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL), constantly changing fleet equipment technology and ever-stricter environmental regulations are ongoing challenges.
“FPL is the largest power supplier in the state of Florida,” says George Survant, director of fleet services for FPL. “With several thousand power linemen and restoration specialists driving our utility trucks, trying to meet so many varied expectations can sometimes be difficult, especially with all the new technology now available. We take a partnership approach to spec'ing vehicles and equipment, getting everyone involved, including drivers, maintenance technicians, safety specialists and equipment manufacturers.”
Based in Juno Beach, FL, the energy company services customers in eastern Florida from Miami Beach to the Georgia border, and on the west coast all counties south of St. Petersburg. There are 3,600 pieces of equipment in active service, including 1,200 utility trucks, 300 heavy vans and 900 specialized trailers — with and without engines.
“Under current market conditions, Navistar International medium-duty trucks and Ford light-duty trucks, vans and passenger cars are our vehicles of choice when buying new equipment. Also, most of our utility bodies are purchased from Altec,” Survant reports.
FPL's mission is to construct and maintain the power transmission and distribution network for its 3.9-million customers. As such, Survant notes, equipment reliability is critical. “When we spec a new truck, we target building that vehicle to provide a reliable service life exceeding our intended trade-in cycle by three to five years. We want to allow for a margin of error and ensure its dependability for the long term. If our trucks break down too often, customers will suffer one way or another.”
Because most of the trucks have fairly complex electrical and hydraulic control systems onboard, Survant explains, major diagnostics and repairs are reserved for FPL's in-house technicians, while routine work is outsourced. The utility has 19 Blue Seal ASE-certified shops throughout the state and another 20 sites with mobilized units that can go directly to the location where a vehicle is parked.
“We've been very successful in spec'ing and maintaining a dependable fleet,” Survant notes. “But as we broach the era of deregulated utility companies, we're finding cost pressures to be more of an issue than ever. Added to that are the ever-increasing environmental regulations we must deal with. Diesel exhaust is one area that's receiving a lot of attention right now. Under current law, 90% of the new vehicles we purchase with GVWRs under 9,500 lb. are expected to be alternative-fueled vehicles.”
The use of electric vehicles is not a plausible solution for FPL for several reasons. “The percentage of purely electric vehicles we could run in our fleet would be small,” Survant points out, “because they only support a limited number of missions for which we must provide equipment. In addition, the development of adequate battery power for electric vehicles has not been up to par with the rest of the technology,” he says.
“Likewise, compressed natural gas is not a viable alternative for us. Since we do not have a lot of gas-heated homes in Florida,” he adds, “there isn't a large infrastructure for CNG distribution. And being solely an electricity provider, we cannot justify the cost of CNG that a gas and electric utility could.”
What has proved to be a good compromise for the fleet is biodiesel. The use of biodiesel, according to Survant, was made possible when the EPA modified its restrictions to allow the utility to meet half its EPAct (Energy Policy Act of 1992) credit requirements with this alternative fuel.
“We've been using biodiesel for more than two years now,” Survant relates, “and while it's not inexpensive, the advantage is that it doesn't require any special modifications to the fleet; we simply mix the biodiesel with diesel fuel and deliver it to the trucks. I would like to believe that there will be a better solution available for us in the future, but for now this has proved the best transition strategy for our fleet, while allowing us to do our part in cleaning up the air quality.”