It's electric! Local truck stop goes green with IdleAir

Local truck stop helps drivers avoid idling their engines
Trucks hooked up to IdleAir at Cash's
Trucks hooked up to IdleAir at Cash's
Demonstrating IdleAir's touch screen
Demonstrating IdleAir's touch screen

PORT ALLEN, LA (WAFB) - Thousands of 18-wheelers pass through Louisiana every day, leaving behind dirty exhaust fumes, but a local truck stop is the first in state to offer a service that helps cut down those emissions while saving truckers money in the process.

Drivers pulling into special parking spots along the back of Cash's Truck Plaza in Port Allen are looking for the hook-up…literally.

The service is called IdleAir. Long yellow tubes suspended from scaffolding connect to the windows of big rig cabs, providing electricity and air conditioning so drivers don't have to keep their trucks running while they sleep.

An idle engine uses about a gallon of diesel per hour. At ten hours, that works out to about $37. IdleAir costs around $22 for that same period.

"I'm an owner/operator so any little penny saved is big, plus it doesn't wear and tear on the engine, keeps the little ones cold, gives them entertainment for a lot cheaper than it is to pay for fuel," long-haul driver Matthew Carr said. He and his two young daughters had only stopped for a bathroom break, but decided to extend their stay to take advantage of IdleAir.

Once connected to the cab, the IdleAir unit swings open to reveal a large touch screen with options like wireless internet and DirecTV. There are also four power outlets, and users can control the thermostat. Payment is loaded onto a reusable card that's then swiped directly on the unit.

IdleAir at Cash's was funded in part by a $200,000 grant from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to the Greater Baton Rouge Clean Cities Coalition (now known as Louisiana Clean Fuels).

"Projects like this, just from four months of running from August to December we reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 316.8 tons. That's just from a few months of operations, and they're not even ramped up," said LCF Executive Director Ann Shaneyfelt.

Since the system was installed last August, LCF estimates 3,212 gallons of diesel have been offset, saving truckers $12,206. That's with barely half of the 18 full-service spots in use. Carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by 33.4 metric tons over that same period, while nitrogen oxide and particulate matter have dropped by .4 tons and .01 tons, respectively.

Those reductions are an important part of efforts to keep ozone below federal standards. The five-parish metro Baton Rouge area only met those standards late last year, but the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to toughen them again in the near future.

"We don't know how low they're going to be, but we kind of have an estimate, and if they're as low as we fear, then almost the entire state will be out (of compliance) again," Shaneyfelt said.

Shaun Orgeron, Cash's convenience store manager, said business has increased since IdleAir came online.

"We've picked up a lot," she said. "We have anywhere from five to eight customers that are logged in every day, and phone calls coming in about it, so it's really good."

Drivers may be purchasing less diesel from Cash's, but the Truck Plaza's bottom line hasn't noticed.

"It gets them in the door, and we have other services we can offer them. We have a diner and everything you could possibly want as a truck driver," Orgeron said.

Shaneyfelt said the benefits of IdleAir are far-reaching, especially after diesel fumes were recently shown to cause cancer.

"These drivers are exposed to this on a daily basis, and it's right by them every day and they're breathing it," she said. "If they're able to turn this off they can get a good night's sleep, their health is improved, our overall air quality is improved, and these trucking companies are able to save money on their fuel costs."

Louisiana Clean Fuels recently applied for more grants in the hopes of funding more IdleAir locations in the state. Shaneyfelt hopes to find out their status in August or September.