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Truckers say goodbye to idle time

Eco-friendly device gives big-rig drivers a cheaper way to enjoy the comforts of home

For long-haul trucker Heath Pillig, it's a chore to get restful sleep in his rig when all around him is the sound of chugging diesel motors.

Pillig is one of many drivers who welcome a new technology that not only will make truck stops like the Pilot Travel Center in Central Point quieter and less polluting, but also make it cheaper to operate their semis for things like cooking or watching a ballgame on TV.

It cost me two bucks an hour to sit there and idle the truck, said Pillig of Spokane, Wash. Also there is the wear and tear on the motor.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality hopes the Pilot truck stop will become one of three demonstration sites in the state as part of an effort to eliminate 852 tons of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates statewide.

The project could be funded through &

36;6 million in grants, tax credits and low-interest loans to improve air quality and eventually make 600 of the estimated 1,977 commercial truck parking spaces along Interstate 5 virtually emissions free.

— Truckers idle their rigs so they can run their air conditioning units and other appliances such as stoves, microwaves and televisions. But the idling trucks also create pollution, a problem in winter months when the air is stagnant in places like Central Point.

cutting down on the idling time, the DEQ estimates truckers would save &

36;1.8 million in lowered fuel consumption and reduced wear and tear on engines.

The IdleAir technology hooks up a duct to the window of the truck and is built by IdleAir Technologies Corp. of Tennessee.

About half the spaces throughout the state are earmarked for IdleAir units ' which cost about &

36;15,000 each ' and the remainder will feature electrical hookups at a cost of about &

36;6,500 each.

It's unclear how many spaces at Pilot would feature the new technology. Officials from Pilot's corporate offices in Tennessee were not immediately available Tuesday.

Pillig, 33, thought the IdleAir notion was a joke when the price of fuel was about &

36;1.30 a gallon.

But now with diesel fuel costing more than &

36;2 a gallon, it's cheaper to pay the &

36;1.50 an hour to hook up. Pillig said he uses about a gallon of fuel for every hour his rig idles.

When I'm going to sit for at least eight hours, I'll use them (IdleAir) particularly in extreme temperatures, said Pillig, who has hooked up to units in California.

Truckers purchase a &

36;10 plastic plate that they install in their window to allow them to connect to the unit.

Once he's hooked up, Pillig gets all the comforts of home. One side of the unit provides the air conditioning; the other holds a computer screen that allows access to television and the Internet.

The only thing he doesn't like is backing into some of the IdleAir sites at night because they can be difficult to maneuver into.

Keith Downing, clean diesel coordinator with the DEQ, said work could begin on the three demonstrations sites by January 2005, providing the funding is secured.

The clean air spaces are not part of any new law, he said, but are an effort by the governors of Oregon, Washington and California to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions, a contributor to global warming.

California already has clean spaces available at about a half dozen truck stops.

We're not adopting any regulations, said Downing. It's a service to truckers where they can still enjoy the comforts of home, but are not doing it in a way that burns fuel and creates a pollution problem.

Some old-time truckers may cling to the belief that it takes a diesel motor a long time to warm up.

But modern technology allows these motors to attain operating temperatures within 10 minutes, he said.

Newer trucks like Caterpillar and Volvo also have air-conditioning units and other features that can be operated independently of the diesel motor, allowing for a simpler electrical hookup.

But because these systems aren't universally available on all trucks, companies like Pilot and Petro Stopping Centers have decided to install the IdleAir devices, said Downing.

He said Petro in Phoenix might also qualify for grant money to create clean air spaces.

Some truckers have embraced the new technology, but others don't see much use for it.

I've seen them, but I've never used them, said Steve Baima, a trucker with Swift Transportation Co. Inc.

The 53-year-old Alta Loma, Calif., resident said even when he goes to places like Phoenix, Ariz., he doesn't turn on the motor to run his air conditioning.

I like to pull way down in the fuel stops so I don't have to hear the noise, said Baima.

While the heat and cold don't seem to bother him, Baima said other truckers aren't as tolerant.

Some guys weigh 600 pounds and they need more venting, he said.

Heath Pillig of Spokane, Wash., demonstrates the adapter that allows him to connect to an IdleAir duct at truck stops. The units provide air conditioning and electricity at a cost of $1.50 an hour. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell