Wagga Wagga mayor Greg Conkey says he is preparing to make a long distance road trip in the regional city’s newly acquired electric vehicle after being challenged to do so by a group of skeptical councillors apparently egged on by Murdoch media and talk-back radio.
Conkey agreed to the challenge after controversy over the purchase of the Hyundai Ioniq erupted at a City of Wagga Wagga council meeting on Monday, when councillors questioned the wisdom of the purchase, despite the fact that all of them agreed to it last year.
The councillors reportedly issued a motion requesting the mayor prove the electric vehicle is “fit for purpose” by driving the vehicle to Sydney.
According to talk back radio station 2GB, councillor Paul Funnell told Steve Price that the mayor had let “his ideology get in the way of pragmatism”.
“These virtue-signalling, climate emergency declaring people such as the mayor… have turned around and now they’ve bought this vehicle. That is not value for money.”
Funnell led the fight to block Conkey’s attempts to declare a “climate emergency”, and was forced to apologise after saying adults should be arrested for “child abuse” for taking children to climate change rallies.
Conkey has agreed to look at the trip to Sydney, despite pointing out that the Ioniq, with a range of just 230-280kms, is not designed for regular long distance trips. It was bought with the use of council staff in mind, and that involves much shorter travel times.
“Some of these reports were not entirely accurate and also put forward some misconceptions about the city’s new electric car,” Conkey says in a statement on the council’s website.
Although the vehicle purchased was only ever intended for travel within the town and to nearby centres, Conkey says he is now considering a trip to Sydney to prove the point that it is also suitable for longer distances.
“I was not present at the meeting when that decision was made. However, I have agreed to consider this request. I will plan a business trip to Sydney and will investigate when and how that happens with the assistance and advice of Council staff,” he says.
Wagga Wagga is about a 4.5 non-stop trip from Sydney (5+ hours if stopping for rests), and is about 460kms away. That’s likely within the range of most Tesla EVs and even the Hyundai Kona, but probably twice the range of the Ioniq.
Still, a route via Young and Bathurst, as suggested by A Better Route Planner (ABRP), shows that by charging at two NRMA fast-chargers for less than half an hour each stop, Conkey could in fact do the trip in just under 6 hours.
Although it can, and will, be done by Conkey – it is still a trip that was never meant to be.
“The car was purchased as part of Council’s fleet of vehicles to be used by staff on their daily duties such as attending meetings, community events, consultation sessions, inspections or other task,” he says in the statement.
“The vehicle is ideal for the numerous short distance trips made by staff each day and is about 70 per cent cheaper to power per kilometre than a standard combustion engine
The backlash about the electric vehicle is astonishing considering the fact that at the time the decision to buy the vehicle was made by council, there was no opposition to the purchase.
“On Tuesday 12 June 2018, Council adopted the five pledge items for the Cities Power Partnership program which included the budget for the electric fleet vehicle as an additional car pool vehicle for staff.
“All councillors present voted in favour of the report which went through,” says Conkey.
With zero tailpipe emissions, reduced carbon emission even when powered off a coal-fired grid, the vehicle also has the potential to save the council $1,500 a year in operating costs, as electric vehicles have less maintenance needs and lower energy costs.
By buying the electric vehicle, council will evaluate its use and hopes to be able to share its experiences with other NSW councils. Research by ClimateWorks released at the recent Electric Vehicle Transition conference showed that many EVs, including the Ioniq, are cheaper to run than petrol or diesel equivalents.
When in use by council staff, the vehicle can be charged at the local Civic Centre’s public charging station.
“The charging station at the Civic Centre will provide a 100 per cent recharge in about four-and-a-half hours using low cost off-peak power,” says Conkey.
By taking advantage of nearby DC fast-charging stations, the vehicle will also be able to be used to visit surrounding centres.
Wagga Wagga is just one of a number of councils to commit funds to purchase an electric vehicle. Ballina Council, Ryde Council and the City of Newcastle are all examples of local government bodies that have either purchased or committed funds to purchase an electric vehicle.
In May 2019, Ryde, Ballina and Newcastle announced the decision to purchase an electric vehicle to take advantage of reduced running costs as well as moving towards a sustainable future.
“This is something that I have been promoting for a number of years so it’s great to finally see that Ballina is joining a growing list of councils that use electric vehicles as part of their fleet,” said Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson.
“When you consider that electric vehicles can be charged up from installed solar panels, the actual costs over the life of the vehicle are already less than their petrol equivalent.”
Ryde is investing $370,000 towards the purchase of an electric vehicle and installation of charging infrastructure.
Speaking with The Driven, Ryde councillor Christopher Gordon said that, “It’s part of the community strategic plan to be a smart and innovative city, to take leadership in those areas.”
“It’s part of the package and our way of thinking – we at council can’t change the world but we can be at the frontline,” he said.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.