Gas vs. Battery Power–Which is More Expensive?

Quiz: Which activity is most expensive–operating a gas-powered leaf blower or setting money on fire?

Ok, that’s not a fair question, it depends whether you’re burning five-dollar bills or twenties. But operating a gas-powered leaf blower is about as sensible as setting money on fire, because today’s battery-powered versions are powerful and effective and don’t need any oil or gasoline to run.

Most people already know that ending the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in our parks and neighborhoods would be good for people and other living things, but some people worry that if landscaping companies had to use equipment that doesn’t foul the air or harm the health of their workers, their costs would go up and they might go out of business. (Who knows where this idea came from, but there’s a long history in this country of dire warnings that economic ruin is the price of health, clean air, clean water, automobile safety, worker safety, etc. etc.)

But we couldn’t find any comprehensive studies that took a serious look at the economics of replacing gas-powered leaf blowers with new battery-powered ones, so we rolled up our sleeves and ran the numbers ourselves.

“Change is overdue–the status quo is loud, dirty, unhealthy … and expensive.”

We added up the cost of new battery-powered leaf blowers, including all needed accessories, enough batteries to last a full day’s work, and the electricity needed to charge the batteries, and compared it with the costs of running existing gas-powered blowers (gasoline, oil, and maintenance). We did this for two sets of leaf blowers with comparable power output, in two operational scenarios, so they were head-to-head, apples-to-apples comparisons.

The results showed a positive return on investment in battery-powered leaf blowers in about ten months. That means they pay for themselves, and after that, the continued savings are essentially free money to the landscaper (or city or school district). (Read the report here.)

It sounds almost too good to be true, until you remember that burning gas all day long is expensive. In fact, it costs over $1,000 per year to run a smaller gas-powered commercial leaf blower, and much more for the larger ones. That’s more than twice the cost of the blower itself. And the landscaper keeps paying this, year in and year out, and pays even more when the price of gas goes up. In comparison, the electricity that charges battery-powered blowers is cheap.

So the raw economics show that it’s actually the continued use of gas-powered leaf blowers that’s the expensive choice. The task now should be to help cities and small businesses make the transition, swiftly and equitably. Every year the city continues to delay heaps further impacts on the health and safety of landscape workers, the health of the residents of Santa Cruz (especially children and the elderly), and the quality of life for everyone.

Several landscape maintenance companies in Santa Cruz have already been using battery equipment for years, benefitting their customers, their workers, the environment, and their own bottom lines. What’s holding back the rest? Some are not aware of how much more powerful battery blowers have become in the last few years and how long their batteries now last, and for others it may be simple inertia and the natural tendency to avoid change.

But change is overdue–the status quo is loud, dirty, unhealthy…and expensive.

We ask our city council and Parks & Rec Department to follow the lead of other California cities and accelerate the transition away from gas-powered landscape equipment here in Santa Cruz. If you haven’t yet asked them to do so, please take a minute and send the city council an email to let them know that you value clean air and the health of everyone–workers and residents. And please forward this to your neighbors and ask them to do the same.

Momentum is building around the state for common-sense initiatives like this–but change only happens when we all speak up and demand it.

Enjoy the rest of summer!