California has a new law that will effectively end the sale of gas-powered small engines for machines like lawn mowers, leaf blowers and generators, just to name a few, by 2024. California is legislating the impossible while criticizing pollution from small engines and mandating “zero-emissions” solutions in just more than two years. Ultimately, this law not only impacts those in California, but the 16 other states that traditionally follow CARB regulations. Instead of insisting on battery-powered machines for all, the government in Sacramento should set an example by considering alternative fuels, such as propane. 

 The Current State of Battery-Powered Equipment

Batteries are not the zero-emissions panacea the legislators in Sacramento think they are. Typically, batteries for landscaping machinery are heavy and take a long time to charge; additionally, they have limited range and short lifespans. That’s just the reality that California must deal with. The state has approximately 16.7 million such small engines, and each machine will need, on average, more than one battery at a time. That’s a lot of minerals to mine and a lot of batteries to dispose of.

Let’s look at what California’s new law could mean for a large property landscaping department. Landscapers would need to charge all their batteries the night before beginning work early in the morning – and only be able to complete a portion of the required work before recharging. Swapping out the battery for a new one every few hours means a full day’s work could require several battery changes. Some contractors have mounted solar panels on the roofs of their enclosed trailers to be able to charge LiOn batteries for handheld equipment, in an effort to maximize time and efficiency. Similarly, portable generators are brought along to accomplish the same thing in the field. Coupling these facts with the knowledge that batteries degrade with continuous use and charging, meaning each battery may need to be replaced several times in a year, they hardly seem like a cost- or energy-efficient solution.

Zero Emissions Electricity Relies on Coal and Natural Gas

Moreover, did the legislature think about the charging needs for these millions of batteries? It’s been established that landscapers tending to large tracts of grass will need to charge dozens of batteries each evening. This “zero-emissions” electricity is not zero-emissions at all in California. According to the Energy Information Administration, for the seven-day period starting October 5, natural gas generated 46% of California’s power, and coal generated more than five percent. The situation gets even worse if you look at the hours typically used for charging such batteries—night or early morning. At 9:00 PM on October 9, natural gas provided 49% of California’s electricity and coal provided almost eight percent. At 7:00 AM the next morning, it was 58% natural gas and almost 9% coal. In short, rechargeable batteries are definitely not zero-emissions.

Sound Solutions Include Propane

Yet, there are alternative fuel solutions that are safe, cleaner, readily available and more efficient. Propane is the best option for campuses, parks and golf courses, as well as for landscaping firms. Large facilities like these can obtain their own propane tanks, and landscapers can purchase fuel much like they would gasoline. New propane pumps are as easy and safe to use as basic gasoline pumps at typical gasoline stations. Propane dissipates cleanly into the atmosphere on the rare occasion of a leak and has a higher-octane rating which increases fuel efficiency. When compared to gasoline, small engine machinery powered by propane reduces GHG emissions by 17%, NOx by 19% and SOx by 16%. Even in full sized vehicles, propane is said to be clean enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13% over their lifespans. No matter what machinery is being used, propane is a viable option.

The California law also applies to machines like household generators, which many Californians wish to have due to the frequency of blackouts in the state. Battery-powered generators are not a good idea in the case of a power outage because once the battery is spent, it cannot be recharged. On the other hand, a propane-fueled generator can keep running as long as fuel is available.

Propane Generates Reliable Power  

North America has plentiful natural resources to produce propane as a byproduct of oil or natural gas. In fact, natural gas is so plentiful that producers are often forced to flare off excess gas at the wellhead, which is harmful to the environment. It’s true that propane is a fossil fuel, but it is also true that the lawns, parks, golf courses and campuses of California must be maintained.

California enjoys a special dispensation from the federal government, uniquely allowing it to set its own emissions standards, but other states can and do copy its examples. And this is just the tip of the iceberg; construction sites, concrete jobs, generators, utility vehicles and low-speed vehicles may all be impacted by this sweeping rule. If other states blindly follow the precedent set by this California legislation, they will still be polluting the air with fuel burned at power generation plants, and they will be filling landfills with old batteries from countless machines. There are better options. Propane is one of those solutions.