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    Proposed tax credit could help landscapers transition to electric leaf blowers, lawn mowers
    • October 22, 2023

    When Sana Sirodan and her team launched Greenplace landscaping services out of Costa Mesa earlier this year after immigrating from Ukraine due to the war, she said they opted for all-electric equipment from the start.

    They knew their new home state of California was pivoting away from polluting leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other gear with engines powered by pricey gasoline or diesel, Sirodan said. Electric tools also are quieter, a bit easier to operate and less expensive over time. And Greenplace now pitches their all-electric fleet of tools as an “eco-friendly” selling point for customers throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties.

    But for established landscape businesses, such as Marques Blackman’s Simple Lawns Services in San Bernardino, which have already invested hundreds or thousands of dollars in more powerful gas-fueled tools, coming up with the capital to switch to electric equipment is no small feat.

    Commercial-grade electric-powered gear can cost anywhere from 15% to 300% more upfront, before factoring in the cost of batteries, chargers and potential electrical upgrades needed to keep them running all day. And that financial hit will fall disproportionately on immigrant and non-White residents, who make up higher shares of lawn care workers in Southern California and beyond.

    That’s why Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, introduced a bill that, if adopted, would let professional gardeners and landscapers claim a new business tax credit to recoup some of what they spend to upgrade to zero-emission equipment.

    “I grew up in Orange County,” Correa said by phone Friday, as he walked to a caucus meeting at the Capitol. “In the ’60s and ’70s, there were summer days that you couldn’t go outside and play because the air quality was horrible. And if you did, you’d be coughing for the rest of the week, and you’d have chest pains for the rest of the week, because of the polluted air.”

    So Correa said he fully supports efforts to continue improving local air quality. He just wants to make sure that some of the most vulnerable members of our communities aren’t “unduly” paying the price for changes that benefit everyone.

    Joe Conrad, president of Mean Green Mowers, gives a demonstration of zero-emission, battery-electric commercial lawnmowers that will be used at San Manuel Stadium in this file photo. (Photo by Kurt Miller, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Andy Vaca with Andy’s Landscape uses a blower to clean the dead flowers and leaves from the Jacaranda trees that line Via Pintada outside a resident’s home in Riverside in this file photo. Rep. Lou Correa has introduced a bill that would help landscapers upgrade to electric equipment. (Photo by Stan Lim, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Henry Valladares of Anastacio Landscaping, a family-run business, mows a lawn in Cowan Heights in this file photo. Regulations in California will ban the sale of new gas-powered mowers and other landscape equipment starting Jan. 1, 2023. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)



    Traditional lawn equipment relies on two-stroke engines, which burn a dirty mix of fuel and oil. Operating a commercial leaf blower for one hour puts out the same level of smog-forming pollution as driving a car from Los Angeles to Denver, per the California Air Resources Board, with total emissions from these small off-road engines already exceeding emissions from light-duty passenger cars in California.

    That exhaust has been found to contribute to headaches, asthma and other respiratory symptoms.

    “Pollution impacts everyone’s health, but it is particularly dangerous for those who spend time outdoors like children or the outdoor workers operating the equipment,” said Harold Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association, in a statement supporting Correa’s bill.

    The noise from gas leaf blowers, in particular, is also a problem for wildlife and for people’s quality of life.

    With such effects in mind, California air quality regulators voted in December 2021 to ban the sale of new gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, weed trimmers and chainsaws starting Jan. 1, 2024. New power washers and portable generators will have to be zero-emission starting in 2028.

    The rules don’t apply to existing gas-powered equipment, which will still be legal to use or resell in California.

    California isn’t alone in tackling these loud, polluting tools. There are more than 300 restrictions on gas-powered lawn equipment across the country, according to data collected by the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

    The association “fully supports the responsible transition” from gas to electric equipment, said Andrew Bray, vice president of Government Relations for the trade group. But Bray said their members just want more time and resources to make the switch. That’s why they’ve signed on to support Correa’s bill, joining a diverse and growing coalition of backers that includes environment, health and business groups, from landscapers to golf courses.

    Under Correa’s bill, landscape businesses could write off up to 40% of what they spent the prior year to buy emission-free gear, including plug-in or cordless tools plus any batteries or chargers that power those tools. The credit also can be used to help upgrade existing equipment to make it zero-emission. Businesses could get up to $25,000 back on purchases each year, for no more than $100,000 in credits over a 10-year period. And the credit would apply to any equipment purchased on or after Jan. 1, 2023.

    Gas-powered tools have been such an industry standard that Blackman said he didn’t even consider buying electric gear when he worked his way up from doing landscaping as a chore growing up to doing it as a side hustle to launching his own business five years ago. He’s been reading about the coming switch to electric equipment, though, and has been setting aside money for when he has to buy new gear.

    “That’s going to be hard on a lot of people that have other expenses,” he said. “But as a business owner, you have to adapt with the times, you know, and be like a chameleon.”

    He also noted that, much like with an electric vehicle, buying electric landscaping equipment tends to be more expensive upfront and become cheaper over time.

    The price for consumer-grade, handheld leaf blowers is now about the same whether they’re gas and electric. But for commercial gear, an electric backpack leaf blower might cost $100 or more than a comparable gas version, while an electric sit-down lawn mower might cost $30,000 vs. a $12,000 gas-powered version. Gas tools are more powerful, too, Blackman said. And landscapers who use them don’t yet need to worry about upgrading electrical systems in their shops to handle the voltage needed to charge zero-emissions gear.

    But electric tools require much less maintenance, since they don’t have the same complex moving parts. They also don’t require pricey oil, gasoline or diesel to operate.

    To care for 60 lawns throughout the San Bernardino area this past week, Blackman said he spent about $200 in gasoline for his equipment.

    Electric gear is also a bit lighter, with no chain to pull to start it up. And Sirodan said they don’t have to worry as much about disturbing customers or their neighbors even when they start work early, since the tools are much quieter.

    Despite the broad coalition of support for his bill, Correa acknowledged it will likely be tough to get this tax credit added to Section 46 of the Internal Revenue Code.

    “There’s a lot of people in Congress, on the other side of the aisle primarily, that don’t won’t support any tax credits for going green,” he said.

    “But we’re not playing the odds. We’re advocating for what’s right for our taxpayers, our small businesses in our district.”

    ​ Orange County Register