No idle threat

| April 02, 2008

The truck stop electrification grid has grown remarkably from 10 years ago, when there was virtually nothing offered, and some truckers are faithful users.

Small fleet owner Karen Barnett pays for IdleAire for her two company drivers. “Sometimes they can get in, and sometimes they can’t,” she says. “There’s not near enough of them out there.”

Owner-operator Brian Coleman of Tacoma, Wash., uses IdleAire, even though he has an auxiliary power unit, which he hooks up to IdleAire. “I can actually keep batteries charged up through IdleAire.” Plus IdleAire provides an Internet connection, satellite television and long-distance phone service.

But getting adequate numbers of truckers to hook up has proven to be something of a difficult sell. “Our Advanced Travel Center Electrification system has not yet achieved widespread market acceptance,” IdleAire reported to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in November.

The company said that overall use of its sites in the third quarter of 2007, at an average hourly rate of $2.18, was 29 percent. That’s not as low as it sounds, considering that most demand occurs overnight and that the need for hot or cold air drops during spring and fall. Of used hours, 39 percent was billed to fleets.

The typical site costs $1 million for 65 electrified parking spaces, or $15,000 per space, IdleAire told the SEC. Those costs have been subsidized by states, local governments and truck stops.

From the company’s inception in 2000 through Sept. 30, 2007, IdleAire reported, it had been awarded $55.6 million in government grants. Of that total, $8.6 million had expired or been terminated, $25.7 million had been invoiced by IdleAire (of which $24.1 million had been received), and the remaining $21.3 million would be invoiced as new sites were deployed.

IdleAire, which has yet to turn a profit, told the SEC that its net loss for the first nine months of 2007 was $66 million, with an accumulated debt of $219 million, and that it would need “substantial additional funds” to continue its expansion and to fund its 2008 operations. IdleAire subsequently announced Jan. 31 that it would cut 40 jobs.

IdleAire spokesman John Doty declined to comment for this article.
- Linda Longton contributed to this story.


Finding electrified sites:
A shore thing Owner-operators interested in electrified parking as an idling alternative can get quick information via a U.S. Department of Energy Truck Stop Electrification Site Locator online at afdcmap2.nrel.gov/tse. It allows users to search by city, and to get the phone number, number of electrified sites and a location map for each shore power location.

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