The Waldo County Sheriff's Department is fast-forwarding into the future with the purchase of its first hybrid SUV this summer.

According to Lt. Matt Curtis, the new addition to the fleet, a 2020 Police Interceptor Utility, is expected to hit the streets this fall with a price tag of $26,836 after trade-ins.

The base price is around $40,000 Curtis said, but after government and dealer discounts, and with the trade-in of two older "straight gas" vehicles, "this brought the price more in line with our budget."

"It's about what we pay for a gas car," Curtis said, "with no extras."

Budget Committee members, back in late 2017, asked about the possibility of a hybrid cruiser, Curtis said, but at that time there were no options on the market.

Curtis, who is responsible for fleet management at the Sheriff's Department, said he learned at a Maine Sheriff's Association conference that Ford was offering a 2020 police-rated electric/gas hybrid cruiser. The Waldo County commissioners asked him to look into it. In May, the commissioners unanimously approved a bid from Darlings for $26,836 toward the purchase of the new vehicle.

Ford's hybrid fuel economy success lies in the vehicle's use of the battery, not the engine. When the car is idling, the lithium-ion battery powers lights, radios, computers and other on-board electrical gear. The engine completely shuts off while idling, until the car senses the need to top off the battery.

Because of the fuel savings during idle times, departments will also see a reduction in CO2 emissions and, according to Ford literature, maintenance, too.

The Sheriff's Department will be saving some money on gas as well; the 2020 model gets 24 mpg, compared with the previous generation of 2018 3.7-liter gas only cruisers, which got 17 mpg.

Curtis said the department drove a total of 563,000 miles last year and budgeted $70,000 for fuel in 2019.

"I expect some savings — maybe not as much as a municipal department," he said, "just because of the type of driving — we have more rural driving."

Curtis said the savings most likely will be seen in the idle time and said, "We owe it a good test."

Even with all the fuel savings, battery technology, and shiny thing-a-ma-bobs, the new Interceptor boasts more horsepower and is slightly faster (by two seconds) in the 0-100 mph range, than the previous generation gas model.

The 2020 Interceptor does not compromise in performance or safety and will be placed on "the front lines" on patrol, Curtis said.

He is looking forward to putting the vehicle through its paces and hopes to "glean some savings" with the hybrid option. According to Curtis, there is even an option, available for the first year, that emails performance data directly to him.

Deputy Chief Gerald Lincoln of the Belfast Police Department said his department is also looking forward to receiving its fleet's first two new hybrid SUVs but anticipates their arrival "by the first of the year."

According to Jessica Bouchard, commercial sales assistant at Darlings, since the release of the hybrid cruiser this year, the only ones they have sold so far, other than to Waldo County Sheriff's, have been to the Maine State Police, which ordered a few of them to try out.

Many departments have expressed interest, she said, but they have yet to receive more orders.

"I believe, though, that once they hit the market and get some real world exposure, more departments will take notice and the potential cost savings they offer," Bouchard said.

For those interested in a general consumer model, a hybrid engine is also available in the 2020 Explorer (non-police version).

Curtis said he gives credit to the Budget Committee for asking, the commissioners for their willingness to explore it, and the sheriff for wanting to go forward and see if it is something the department can work with.

"You can't put a price on the environment," he said, reiterating his point that with police cruisers idling as much as they do, it only makes sense.