Truck stop installs high-tech cooling, connectivity system

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


KENLY — A family-owned truck stop on Interstate 95 has a new service that will not only benefit drivers, but the environment as well.

“We were looking to invest in emerging technology to benefit the environment, especially air emissions,” said Duke Energy communications manager Randy Wheeless. “IdleAir said this is a good project in the Duke area that would showcase the technology that would benefit the overall community and the environment.”

As part of a 2015 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency, Duke was ordered to spend $4.4 million on environmental projects, $300,000 of which went to install the IdleAir system at Big Boys Truck Stop at 595 Bagley Road in Kenly. The system attaches to a tractor-trailer through the passenger window and offers drivers air conditioning and heat, Wi-Fi, 50 television channels and electricity for an hourly fee.

“Above each of the parking spaces is just a 12,000 BTU air conditioner you’d find in a large bedroom of a house,” IdleAir CEO Ethan Garber said at the unveiling of the system Tuesday. “That uses 1.5 kilowatts an hour to air-condition a truck and provide the driver with the comforts of a motel room, much like an RV. That 1.5 kWh is less than one-tenth the energy intensity and one-tenth the emissions of an idling truck engine.”

During prolonged breaks and overnight stays, many truckers leave their engines on to control the temperature of the cab and provide electricity, but doing so burns fuel and adds wear and tear to engines. A study from Argonne National Labs revealed more than 2 billion gallons of diesel fuel is wasted each year by overnight idling of more than 1 million drivers. About 43,000 gallons of fuel will be saved annually with 24 IdleAir stations at the Kenly truck stop, according to Duke Senior Vice Present of Economic Development Clark Gillespy.

Garber said in the 15 years IdleAir has been in business, the company has mitigated 60 million gallons of diesel fuel for the trucking industry. And the addition of hookups for refrigerated trucks will increase the environmental benefit since roughly 20 percent of users are hauling refrigerated loads.

“We hope as these units become compatible with high voltage plugs, we’ll be able to kill two engines in one space,” said Yale Klat, general counsel for IdleAir.

Garber said more than 800 truck company fleets offer the IdleAir service as part of the benefits to drivers with 45 locations in 18 states.

“We have several promotions we run every day, so it is affordable at less than $2 an hour,” said Brian McDonald, vice president of operations and construction for IdleAir. “Right now with fuel between $2.80 and $3 a gallon, drivers are saving a dollar a gallon just by shutting the truck off, not to mention the wear and tear on the engine.”

As for the Powell family who owns Big Boys Truck Stop, the system is a welcome addition to the parking lot. Walter “Big Boy” Powell Sr. started the business in 1991 and the 78-year-old still comes to work at 5 a.m., but most of the daily operations have shifted to his son, Walter Powell Jr.

“We are just a little truck stop. We are, but this helps,” said Powell Sr. “We’re trying to survive, and that has been hard with the road cut off to traffic.”

Construction on a bridge adjacent to the truck stop property has closed the southbound exit and northbound entrance ramps, causing an estimated 30 percent loss in traffic to the business. The southbound ramp reopened last week, but the northbound entrance will be closed for several more months.

“We’ve known about the project about a year in advance, so we started some remodeling to the truck stop,” Powell Jr. said. “We’re hoping the IdleAir system will attract drivers to come here for their downtime. If we can offer them a bit of hospitality and rest, then that is what we want to do.”

Many of the existing IdleAir systems are installed at Flying J, Pilot and Love’s travel centers — a fact that is not lost on the Powells.

“They could have easily approached the chain stores to put this in place in their parking lot, but you choose an owner-operator like ourselves, and it means the world to us,” said Powell Jr.

To learn more about the 24-hour truck stop, visit www.facebook.com/BigBoys95/.