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Postal vehicles of 1990 vintage get about 9 miles per gallon; their flat buildings are perfect for solar--the USPS needs resources to change



Many of the US Postal Service's 200,000 vehicles were made about 25 years ago. In addition to being quite old, they have quite poor performance (on average, estimated to be about 9 miles per gallon). Following superstorm Sandy, the failure of the electric pumps at fuel suppliers led to the USPS having to have gasoline transported in by truck from very significant distances. Given the advances in vehicle technology, the relatively limited range and low speed requirements of many of the postal vehicles, and the ongoing responsibility of the Postal Service to visit virtually every address in the United States, there is a tremendous opportunity to greatly increase the average mileage of the vehicles and to cut their operating costs. The problem is that there is, due to the overall USPS financial situation, insufficient capital to fund the very large purchase that could, at the same time, greatly reduce operating costs, reduce air pollution, and cut greenhouse gas emissions. The opportunity for lease-purchase of efficient vehicles would seem very high.

In addition, the Postal Service occupies roughly 30,000 facilities around the country. Many of their buildings have roofs that are flat and particularly suitable for installing solar panels. This has not been happening, generally because the building are leased for periods of a decade or less and thus the real payback for solar installations extends beyond the term of lease, giving the USPS inadequate economic incentive to install the solar panels, and the building owner no guarantee of a return. This is a very large missed opportunity. The Postal Service should be required to include a provision in their call for bids for the buildings they occupy to be as green as possible-both energy tight and equipped with solar panels in most situations. Studies make clear that efficient buildings have short enough payback times for such a requirement to not be particularly costly and quite probably to result in important savings.

Category of the action

Mitigation - What U.S. Federal Agencies can do to mitigate climate change

What actions do you propose?

There are two major opportunities for win-win actions involving the US Post Office:

1. Provide a means for the US Postal Service to replace the estimated  150,000 vehicles that are over 20 years old, either by providing access to sufficient dedicated capital or through a lease-purchase agreement with private sector financing. The replacement vehicles, whether electric or hybrid, should be designed to achieve significantly greater mileage while also designed to address the changing climatic conditions that Postal Service employees are are already starting to encounter. The USPS has had a research program testing out various electric vehicle options and approaches (see has learned a great deal through this effort. A key problem to getting a significant transition to an energy efficient vehicle fleet has been, in part, the lack of a financing mechanism that would enable the USPS to replace the large fraction of its fleet that is now over two decades old.

2. Require that the calls for bids include provisions that other buildings and facilities for the US Postal Service be energy efficient and that, to the extent possible, have solar cells on their roofs that take advantage of the extensive flat areas as a means of reducing utility costs. While the USPS does not have the wherewithal nor the authority to change the leased buildings on their own, requiring that building owners do this would lead them to invest in improvements that are recognized as providing a good long-term return on investment.

Innovative financing mechanisms similar to those that are proposed have been used by the Department of Defense over the past two decades to increase the energy efficiency of their bases, even using the extra lands surrounding US Air Force facilities to locate solar installations designed to provide for more electricity than needed to meet on-base electric needs.

Who will take these actions?

The Executive branch should be encouraging and taking actions to ensure that the US Postal Service is empowered and encouraged to take the necessary steps to be a leader in energy efficiency. In that it would seem possible for these actions to be taken through leasing and/or lease purchase agreements without additional capital being needed, it would seem that these actions could be accomplished through actions of the Executive Branch and Postal Board of Directors and without the need for Congressional action. To the extent this is the case, there is really no excuse for not taking this action.

Where will these actions be taken?

These actions are intended for implementation within the US and would be seen as a very encouraging sign that the US is serious about addressing climate change. Absent such actions, it will give the impression that the US is not even serious enough to take actions that will fully pay for themselves over a relatively short period.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

The Postal Service has one of the largest vehicle fleets in the nation, totaling over 200,000 vehicles, and its use of more than 30,000 buildings and facilities is more than is the situation for any other organization. Right now, USPS use of energy is far from optimal efficiency, so a significant upgrade would be one of the largest efficiency improvement projects that could be undertaken by a single entity in the US. With the present vehicle fleet getting, on average, nine miles per gallon, there is the potential to increase mileage by a factor of four (because only a few types of vehicles are needed, large numbers of each type will be needed, providing an opportunity for spreading the design costs about many vehicles), and building efficiency can also be sharply improved, as is being demonstrated in programs to green existing buildings and in programs that achieve gold and platinum ratings for new buildings.

The real need is to just do it.

What are other key benefits?

The consequences of inefficient energy use include poor air quality and health effects. With summer heat increasing, the new vehicles also need to be designed to deal with the changing climate/weather

What are the proposal’s costs?

This is a proposal that can, over time periods of a decade or two, save money--what is lacking is the upfront capital or leasing mechanism to do it and the commitment to make the changes so that the savings can be reaped. The Department of Defense, a similarly prodigious consumer of gasoline and electricity, has done this; it is now time for the USPS to act. So, let's save money.

Time line

The proposal is one that would provide its benefits in the near-term---it can be done NOW.

Related proposals

This is a proposal that can be undertaken on its own--it would benefit from stronger commitments by the US to cut emissions and address climate change.


USPS, Electric Vehicles in the Postal Service, see

USPS, Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation, see