Although Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation banning the sale of most new gas tools by 2024, gardeners and landscape designers say the $ 30 million government subsidy isn’t enough to help small operators switch to electricity.
The government agency in charge of administering the subsidy estimates that it is just enough to give every self-employed gardener a 50% coupon for one tool, away from the trucks with blowers, lawn mowers, small chainsaws, brush cutters and trimmers that they usually carry around. …
In fact, local governments realized they needed to offer more. In Southern California, the regional air quality district, which has had a similar incentive program since 2017, had few users until they increased the discount to 75% on the tool. The district combined this with an outreach program and encouraged landscape designers to test electrical equipment.
The California Air Resources Board is still figuring out who will qualify for the rebate, but Assemblyman Mark Berman, one of the sponsors of the bill, said he was willing to add additional funds if needed.
“Let’s not turn the ideal into the enemy of the good,” said the Menlo Park Democrat.
Environmentalists hailed the nation’s first legislation to advance California’s clean energy goals, noting that the state estimates that smog pollution from small gas engines will exceed emissions from passenger cars this year. But the electrification of the landscaping industry poses financial and physical constraints for an estimated 60,000 single-person, often unlicensed landscaping jobs – an industry with an average income of less than $ 40,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There is an argument for subsidizing the transition. An electric blower and batteries cost nearly double the price of a comparable gas version. California estimates that a complete transition of nearly 3 million tools used by landscape design professionals would cost $ 1.29 billion.
Brian, a landscape designer who asked to be named just because he feared losing his business, uses a mix of electrical and gas equipment. Electrical fail.
“I now have 10 to 15 houses a day, but with the help of electricity (tools) I can make 7 or 5 houses a day,” he said. That’s a loss of $ 1,000 a week.
Brian has already told his child that he cannot afford books or a new laptop. A complete refurbishment through the purchase of all electrical tools would require him to raise prices by 30%, he said. He fears that his clients from home will buy their own tools and do it themselves, displacing him from work.
When the law was signed, Berman and San Diego-based Assemblyman Lorena Gonzalez called it a victory for both the environment and human health. Power tools are already widely used by California homeowners, but only a handful of commercial landscaping companies have switched to them, according to a 2018 survey by the Air Resources Council.
At the time, 8 out of 10 landscape designers said they were planning to buy gas fixtures, many of which prioritized performance, lead time, and cost. But, according to the Air Board, running a gas blower for one hour results in the same pollution as driving a Toyota Camry from Los Angeles to Denver.
The lawn refurbishment will bring the rest of the state in line with cities such as Palo Alto, Los Altos and Menlo Park, which have already banned noisy leaf blowers. The law also directs the Air Resources Board to develop state regulations for other small motor equipment such as golf carts, small generators, and washers.
But the landscaping industry, the main target of the ban, says the transition has already come at a cost.
Stephen Wood bought four batteries for his electric leaf blower after a number of communities in the Bay Area banned gas leaf blowers. Woods, who owns a small landscaping business, immediately noticed that the battery was running low.
“I’ve never spent $ 200 on something that lasted 45 minutes,” Wood said, “and that’s not enough for six to eight homes a day.”
As soon as the batteries run out, two of Wood’s employees resort to raking, which takes three times as long to complete.
Tests confirm it.
Consumer Reports compared gas and electric tools like lawn mowers, blowers, and trimmers. A nonprofit consumer organization found that battery-powered tools, requiring little maintenance and ease of use, were good candidates for homeowners with less than an acre of land who were anxious to recharge their batteries. But when it came to larger patches, more resistant weeds to destroy, or long hours of use, gas tools were superior.
“As an industry, we want this (battery-powered) equipment to be able to handle what we throw at it,” said Sandra Jardet, executive director of the California Association of Landscape Contractors. “But he’s not there yet.”
The Air Resources Council said the technology is close enough. While electric tools may not have the same power, they offer other benefits such as longer life, better torque for some tools, and savings in gas and maintenance, according to Christopher Dilbeck, an air pollution specialist.
“We understand that yes, what we are offering will be costly,” Dilbek said. “This is one of the reasons this funding is available.”
The board, which will provide a $ 30 million state grant, has yet to say how it will distribute incentives other than speaking it will target smaller operators. In one scenario, California might offer 12,000 small landscape designers a 50% discount on all of their new tools, or every sole proprietor can get 50% off a single tool.
“You can’t get the job done that fast,” said Ken Templain, owner of Ken’s Rototilling, a landscaping company in Contra Costa. “You can’t make that much money.”
This article is part of the California Divide, a newsroom collaboration that explores income inequality and economic survival in California.