SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio – It’s not very often that a crowd gathers to watch someone cut grass, but that was the case Wednesday morning in Shaker Heights where the city demonstrated a recent addition to its maintenance department – an electric sit-down mower.
As far as city Public Works Director Patty Speese knows, Shaker Heights is the only municipality in the county that has such a machine, which set the city back $15,000 when it was added to the fleet in March.
But then Shaker Heights tends to be an early adopter when it comes to such things. It was the first city in the county after Cleveland to hire a director of sustainability, said Michael Peters, who fills that position for the city.
The demonstration didn’t attract observers from other cities but it did draw maintenance and sustainability officials from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College to a patch of lawn between the Shaker Heights Public Library and the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Community Building.
They asked mostly pointed questions about the Greenworks brand mower, how it handles and the battery pack that powers it.
“Where’s the cup holder?”chimed in Melanie Knowles, sustainability manager at Kent State University, drawing chuckles from the group.
The school’s manager of grounds, Rebekkah Berryhill, took a test drive and was impressed.
“It was actually a very comfortable ride,” she said. “It seemed like it had plenty of power. Puts a very fine cut on the turf. I wasn’t expecting it to have such a clean cut.”
While adding electric mowers is something Kent State would like to do, the biggest hurdle will be getting buy-in from the maintenance staff, she said. “They’re so used to running petroleum and changing over to electric is new and different and scary and I’m sure they will be the greatest critics.”
At Shaker, the designated driver of the electric mower is Trent Dysert, who was on hand to provide his review of the machine that he operates for about six hours on most days.
“I like it overall really well,” he said. “The battery does last long enough which we were wondering if it would be a problem, which it has not been.”
The seat is comfortable, he said, and the machine is more quiet than the gas-powered mowers in the city’s fleet.
“It’s at least a few decibels quieter, I mean its enough of a difference to where you notice it,” he said.
The only noise comes from engaging the cutting blades, whereas the motor is silent. That means you don’t have to turn off the mower if someone approaches for a conversation, Dysert said.
The city’s several other mowers are gas powered but the plan is to replace them over time with electric models. Plus, other similar changes are being contemplated.
“My goal is to get electric scooters for garbage pickup,” Speese said, referring to the carts that city workers drive up to residents’ homes so they can empty the cans and bring the waste down the driveway to a truck waiting on the street .
Peters said the city also has already purchased two electric leaf blowers and weed trimmers to replace gas-powered models that are especially polluting because of the 2-stroke engines they have.
The city is transitioning to electric vehicles and equipment for few reasons, Peters said. While they cut down on pollution, they also reduce noise, something more residents are complaining about now that more of them are working from home and hopping on Zoom calls.
A third reason is to encourage and incentivize residents and private contractors to make a similar switch. The city had some success with a county-program that provided rebates to residents who scrapped their gas-powered mowers for electric models, he said.
“We think there are a lot of people who would make the decision if they just knew what the options are,” Peters said.