KENNEBUNK — Gurcharan Singh Banwait, a truck driver from Montreal, used his break at the Maine Turnpike’s Kennebunk service plaza Wednesday morning to hand out literature about his foundation, which raises money for eye care camps in Pakistan and India.
But it was hard to hear him over the roar of a couple of dozen idling diesel engines as they powered the ventilation systems, flat-screen televisions and other creature comforts in the cabs of the 18-wheelers.
The noise is one reason Banwait, who hauls Canadian produce to Hannaford supermarkets in his own truck, said he will welcome Maine’s first electrified truck stop, which is scheduled to open in West Gardiner next year.
“It is a beautiful idea,” he said. “It will save a lot of pollution, save our motors, and when you sleep you won’t be choking from all the smoke.”>/p>
With a $1.2 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Maine Turnpike Authority plans to develop 30 new parking spots and equip them with devices that provide air conditioning, heating and electricity, and possibly cable TV and Internet connections.
Auxiliary power units are available to do most of those things, but they’re too expensive for most long-distance haulers.
The truck stop devices, each about the size of a gasoline pump, are designed to cut down idling time, conserve fuel and reduce emissions, said Peter Merfeld, chief operations officer for the turnpike. Cold or hot air is blown into the truck’s cab through a hose, and electricity is provided via plugs.
Federal law requires long-distance truckers to rest for 10 hours after 11 hours on the road. Many idle away the hours inside their cabs. The turnpike’s service plazas attract overflow crowds of truckers at night, especially since the state closed two rest areas on Interstate 95 north of the turnpike this summer to save money.
Merfeld said each new parking space with one of the devices will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 2,000 tons, nitrogen oxide by 48 tons and particulate matter by 1.3 tons annually.
It will also save fuel and wear and tear on the engines of truckers, who made up just over 10 percent of the 61.3 million motorists who used the turnpike last year.
“They will save money and their trucks will last longer,” Merfeld said.
The devices, which are made by several companies, are in use at several private truck stops in New England, and in states such as North Carolina and California. Several other states got EPA grants for electrified truck stops under the federal stimulus program.
Merfeld said turnpike officials have yet to determine whether they will charge for the devices. Some private stops offer them for free, while others charge $1 to $2 an hour.
Turnpike officials estimate the units will save truckers $38 per 10 hours, based on a diesel fuel price of $2.60 a gallon, engine wear costs of $1.20 an hour and the use of 1.02 gallons of diesel fuel per hour.
Dale Hanington, president of the Maine Motor Transport Association, which represents truckers, said, “The possibility of people using them is pretty good if they are priced right.”>/p>
Brian Smith, an independent hauler from Winchester, Va., who was in Maine on Wednesday for the food distributor Sysco Corp., said he would power his truck with a device if it saved him money.
“Every penny counts in this business,” he said.
On Wednesday, the turnpike authority’s board accepted a bid for the parking lot expansion from R.J. Grondin & Sons of Gorham; construction is expected to be completed by November.
The turnpike authority will seek bids for the devices this month, with completion of the project scheduled for next spring.
Silviu Cosma was parked in his rig at the Kennebunk service plaza for two days this week, awaiting word from his employers in Chicago about his next load. He had only a laptop to keep him amused. He said the devices might make such long waits more bearable.