Cost makes heavy-duty commercial electric mowers a hard-sell to landscapers. A heavy duty commercial electric mower with long-lasting batteries can cost nearly $30,000, more than three times what a comparable gas-powered machine sells for.

Professional landscapers are reluctant to plug into electric mowers due to cost

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Many homeowners are buying electric landscape tools to try to replace gas-powered ones that has benefits for air quality and those who like peace and quiet including BJ Leiderman, who does our theme music. But as NPR's Matthew Schuerman reports, landscaping companies have been slow to join the trend.

MATTHEW SCHUERMAN, BYLINE: For homeowners, electric lawnmowers are about as effective and inexpensive as gas-fueled versions. But if you're a professional using your equipment all day, day after day, you'll need something like this.


JEN STROKER: So this is our Rival model. This is our most popular model.

SCHUERMAN: That's Jen Stroker, a sales rep for Mean Green Mowers, a 10-year-old electric lawnmower company. She's demonstrating one of the company's machines in a park in Westchester County, New York.

STROKER: This is a 7 1/2-hour-run-time mower, and this is a 52-inch deck.

SCHUERMAN: Electric lawnmowers won't help much in terms of climate change and emissions. People just don't mow their lawns nearly as much as they drive. But they don't emit noxious pollutants, and they are quieter.

STROKER: Our main customers are primarily municipalities, colleges, schools, hospitals - anywhere you need quiet.

SCHUERMAN: With its huge battery, the Rival starts at nearly $30,000, several times as much as a comparable gas-powered mower. But given the lower maintenance and operating costs, Mean Green says you can break even in a matter of months to years. Still, that's a huge upfront investment for someone like Austin Acocella, a landscaper in Westchester.

AUSTIN ACOCELLA: In the future, I would love to buy them. But right at this second, I just can't because of inflation and just everything that's going on. I just can't swing it yet.

SCHUERMAN: He does have some electric gear in his truck - a weed whacker...


SCHUERMAN: ...A leaf blower...


SCHUERMAN: ...And his favorite, an electric hedge trimmer.


ACOCELLA: It's, like, a pleasure to use, to be honest.

SCHUERMAN: But for the most part, he says these tools just don't measure up to their gas versions.

ACOCELLA: I need something that's going to last long or that's - something that's easy. Like, I have a gas can on a truck that I just fuel up, and I go. How many batteries do I have to have in order to get through the day?

SCHUERMAN: Across the country, about 40% of new lawnmower sales are electric, according to Fact.MR, a market research company. But for professional-grade models, the number's much lower. So when California passed a bill last fall mandating that all new lawn equipment be zero emissions, the landscape industry objected. They said the technology wasn't there yet. The law's author, assembly member Marc Berman, disagrees.

MARC BERMAN: This equipment is ready today. There are at least eight brands that produce zero-emission equipment in each major equipment category.

SCHUERMAN: The law kicks in in 2024, but it doesn't forbid the use of existing gas-powered gear, so landscapers won't have to switch over all at once.

BERMAN: We imagine that people will transition to fully electric fleets over the course of five, six, 10 years.

SCHUERMAN: California is the first state to enact such a ban. Now New York's considering one. Nonprofit groups have also supported about 20 localities around the country to make this switch but to do so voluntarily. California lawmakers allocated $30 million to offset the extra costs for landscapers. But the landscapers say that's just a small percentage of what they'll really need. Matthew Schuerman, NPR News.


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