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By Jeffrey Pieters

jpieters@postbulletin.com

How does 100 miles-per-gallon fuel economy sound to you?

How about an electric car whose batteries are recharged nightly by "green" energy sources?

To Olmsted County leaders today unveiling the newest addition to the government’s fleet — a 2008 Toyota Prius with an extra battery on board — it sounds smart.

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"Imagine if you had a whole fleet of these things," said Public Works Director Mike Cousino. "We could quit importing oil. That’d be great."

The Prius, to be commissioned to the Public Health Department, has its standard battery, plus a 5-kilowatt-hour, lithium polymer battery in the trunk.

The additional battery can drive the car for about 30 miles before the hybrid vehicle’s gas engine has to kick in.

By night, it will plug into a standard electrical outlet, fed by energy from the nearby Waste-to-Energy plant. Hence, the decal on the vehicle’s back bumper, which reads, "Powered by Garbage."

With a standard vehicle offering 20 miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency, the cost to drive 30 miles is about $4.60. The cost of the electricity to drive the county’s Prius that same distance is going to be about 50 cents, Cousino said.

Financial reasons are a big part of the reason why the county bought the Prius. They will be measuring the vehicle’s performance and reliability to see whether to consider replacing more of the public fleet with hybrids.

The Prius costs $22,790 to start, plus another $11,000 to buy and install the special battery. By comparison, a Chevrolet Impala bought under the state contract costs $15,750.

The cost savings from lowered fuel consumption over an eight-year service life might make up the difference in purchase price, Cousino said.

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Beyond finances, there are other reasons to hail the Prius, including:

• It has lower emissions than a gas-powered car, and it relies on clean energy from the county’s trash incinerator.

• The car, covered from bumper to bumper with colorful graphics, serves as a rolling billboard promoting clean, efficient transportation. Rising demand for cars like it might induce Toyota to produce more of them, more affordably, Cousino said. The company intends to make a two-battery car commercially available by 2010.

"We want to promote the idea of electrification of transportation," Cousino said.

The extra battery was supplied and installed by A123Systems, a Massachusetts firm.

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