Worried about the air you breathe? This truck stop is trying to help.

Trucks plug in at Big Boys truck stop

Ethan Garber of Convoy Solutions describes the IdleAir system that provides power and air conditioning to trucks, allowing drivers to turn off their engines.
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Ethan Garber of Convoy Solutions describes the IdleAir system that provides power and air conditioning to trucks, allowing drivers to turn off their engines.

The Big Boys truck stop off Interstate 95 has acres of parking out back where long-haul truckers can catch a few hours of sleep or watch a little TV in their cabs.

Now they can do it in comfort without having to keep their engines idling, thanks to a new system that lets drivers plug their rigs in and turn them off.

The IdleAir system is being installed by Convoy Solutions of Knoxville, Tenn., with a $300,000 grant from Duke Energy. The system provides heat and air conditioning, power for appliances, internet access and 50 channels of television through a yellow duct that fits through a frame placed in the truck’s passenger-side window.

IdleAir uses about one-tenth the energy – and puts out about one-tenth the pollution – of an idling truck, said Ethan Garber, the CEO of Convoy Solutions. The company operates 45 IdleAir systems in 18 states, mostly in truck stops but also at warehouses where companies keep their fleets.

Several of those companies pay for their drivers to use the IdleAir system while on the road. Otherwise, drivers pay a little less than $2 an hour for the service, compared to the gallon of fuel they would use each hour to idle. They also save on wear on their engines and air conditioning systems and don’t have to breathe in their own exhaust.

Driver Arthur Strickland of Clayton lent his rig for a demonstration of the Big Boys system on Tuesday. Strickland now drives for The Hales Co., a steel hauler based in Clayton, and he’s home every night. But in his 24 years as a trucker, he has used plug-in systems in other states and says they’re convenient and quiet.

“All you have to do is plug everything in and you’ve got the heat and the air,” he said. “I really enjoy it.”

IdleAir will be able to serve up to 24 trucks at a time at Big Boys. There will also be four plugs to power refrigerated trailers, so trucks won’t need to run diesel compressors. Altogether, the system will save drivers an estimated 25,000 gallons of fuel a year.

Garber said the company chose Big Boys because of its location on the East Coast, its large parking area and its local ownership, which IdleAir finds easier to work with. The Powell family has run Big Boys since 1991 and thinks IdleAir will be a welcome addition for drivers, particularly on hot summer days.

“We try to offer them as many of the comforts of home as we can,” said Walter Powell Jr., the manager.

Duke Energy paid for the IdleAir system as part of a settlement of a pollution lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups in 2015. The company agreed to pay a $975,000 fine and spend $4.4 million on environmental projects to settle a 15-year-old lawsuit that alleged air pollution violations at the company’s coal-fired power plants. Duke denied that the plants were out of compliance but says it settled the lawsuit to avoid the costs and uncertainty of litigation.

The Big Boys system is the first of its kind that Duke has underwritten, but company officials say they hope to do more. Duke announced this summer that it would provide $320,000 to install a system for powering parked refrigerated trailers at Merchants Distributors, or MDI, a grocery distribution company in Hickory.

“We wanted to find a project that would showcase emerging technology that’s good for the environment,” Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said. He added that it also showcases an emerging use for Duke’s primary product: electricity.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling