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City might help ease switch to electric-powered leaf blowers

This Pixabay stock image shows someone using a leaf-blower. Credit: Image by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay

With gas-powered leaf blowers on their way out, city officials are moving forward with a financial assistance program to support Evanston-based landscape companies’ transition to electric-powered machines.

At their May 31 meeting, members of the city’s Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to recommend to City Council a financial assistance program that would offer initial assistance to 10 local companies of up to $3,000 toward the purchase of electric-powered blowers.

Council Member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, first proposed the idea. Under the program, the city would use $30,000 in funds currently in the Economic Development’s Entrepreneurship Grant Program to fund the program.

In November of last year, Evanston City Council members amended the city’s leaf-blower ordinance, transitioning from the use of gas-powered leaf-blowers to the use of electric leaf-blowers by April 1, 2023.

Members of the city’s environmental community have long sought the change from gas-powered blowers, citing noise pollution, environmental health issues, as well as the effect on wildlife habitats.

At the May 31 meeting, committee member and Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, raised concerns that the $30,000 might not be enough for the program.

He spoke strongly in support of the move, though noting city officials had spoken about the need for a change in behavior if Evanston is to achieve its Climate Action Resilience Plan goals.

“And this might be the first time we’ve done this as a City, aligned with climate action,” he said. “So this is a good start.”

Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, said he would like to see a needs assessment conducted of the companies applying for assistance “rather than just handling it [the money] out.”

“If there’s a super successful business that’s expanding and growing and they’re doing good, I don’t know that’s the best place to spend this money,” he said. “I think it’s better used for the folks who are in the middle ground … who can use the financial assistance.”

Council Member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, reminded committee members that concerns had been raised in general about leaf blowers’ dispersion of materials into the ambient air.

“So this doesn’t get to that,” she said.

Three times the cost

Asked about the City proposal, Paul Klitzkie, general manager of Nature’s Perspective, one of Evanston’s largest and longest-established landscape firms, said the transition to electric-powered blowers would have the greatest impact on smaller companies.

A commercial-grade electric blower can cost close to $1,500, with the blower itself in the $500 range and the battery pack close to $1,000, he estimated.

That is approximately three times the cost of a gas-powered blower, he said.

Nature’s Perspective, at 2000 Greenleaf St., has teamed up with Husqvarna, a major manufacturer of the electric-powered blowers, and has been moving to transition to electric, including its trucks, he said.

Klitzkie said the change has been a challenge, though, with the supply chain and other issues that have arisen during the pandemic.

He said while the change to the more expensive equipment would hit the bigger companies, it “could really kill,” the smaller programs trying to scrape by.

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