FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 4, 2012) -- Fort Rucker is looking to minimize its fossil-fuel consumption by testing three electric utility side-by-side all-terrain vehicles to cut spending.

The Leading Change Team headed the operation in its beginning stages and will observe it to its completion as the carts are tested for the next several weeks at Lowe Army Heliport to weigh the costs and the benefits of switching to electric and solar-powered carts.

"For a while people said that this wasn't a priority, but I was always telling people in the motor pool and in the offices that it was a priority to the LCT," said Darrell Hager, environmental protection specialist of environmental and natural resources division.

Replacing the mules is one way the LCT and other programs on post are trying to reduce Fort Rucker's fossil-fuel footprint, said Patricia Donahue, director of logistics at Army Fleet Support, adding that feedback was gathered from the workers at the motor pool to help narrow down just what kind of cart would be best.

"This venture is a very multi-agency, multi-department project. We talked with Aviation Center Logistics Command, AFS and LCT, we have environmental, quality and maintenance all involved in coming up with what is best in terms of what kind of cart would best suit our needs and reduce our fossil-fuel footprint on post. This was truly an honest team effort to make Fort Rucker a better place," she said.

The three carts that were selected for testing underwent a cut list of more than nine companies. The supplier companies visited Fort Rucker to observe the terrain, learn about Fort Rucker's mission and talk to everyone who would be involved in using the carts.

"These carts are all about the same price range, but they all have different features that we will test over the next several weeks to see which one works better. We might not end up with just one type of cart. Depending on the results, we might use all three models. It just all depends on the test results," said Donahue.

Donahue said she was impressed with how the LCT got the project running, adding the project was off to a good start because the opinions of the workers were taken into consideration while choosing the carts.

"We want the good and the bad feedback. That has been a problem before. A lot of past failures have happened because the right people were not in the room when decisions were being made. We have to ask the people using the equipment and maintaining it," she said.

One thing that is different about the new carts is the towing capacity of the electric vehicles, Donahue said. Two of the carts can tow 1,250 pounds and one can tow up to 2,500 pounds.

"There are various features that we can add to each cart from solar panels to quick charging capabilities. Right now we are testing the base models of each cart to see what everyone likes best," said Rebekah Morgan, AFS procurement manager, adding that it is important that the carts are monitored by everyone because Lowe is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation. "We want to make sure we get the cart that best fits the worker's needs. The carts can run 45 miles on a single charge, but is that enough? We just don't know yet."

How much money the carts can save is also a big issue that is being monitored.

"These carts are right at or cheaper than the current Kawasaki Mules that we purchased. So we could save money and save fuel. Kawasaki also has a lifetime Mule replacement, so maybe we can swap them for the electric vehicles," said Robert Tillery, program management directorate at ACLC.

The rigorous testing that will be conducted will go further than testing the carts themselves.

"We will have to do a trade-off analysis with the fossil fuel versus electricity. We need to measure which one is cheaper and we need to figure out what our capacity is. These questions still need to be answered. There are around 1,100 [utility side-by-side all-terrain vehicles] on our contract, so infrastructure is really important and we need to make sure that we can take care of that," said Tillery.

Though the new electric utility side-by-side all-terrain vehicles have a long way to go, Donahue is hopeful that the operation will go on without any major hiccups.

"We are hoping these carts take us into the future. If the tests go well then we hopefully will see the installation gradually using them to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel," said Donahue.