Gary Horton | Progress Gets a Push with Electric Lawnmowers

Gary Horton

There’s been a bit of political hubbub over California’s new electric gardening equipment law, Assembly Bill 1346, known as the SORE Act (Small off-road engines). The law, signed late 2021 by Gov. Gavin Newsom, restricts the sale of most gas-powered gardening equipment after Jan. 1, 2024, and gas generators by Jan. 1, 2028. Also restricted are gas golf carts, being phased out on Jan. 1, 2024. 

The right cries, “government overreach into our private choices.” “Another Sacramento jobs killer!” Meanwhile, the far left would take away our lawns and give us rocks for front yards! In between the two is this progressive and sensible bill. 

I write this column from a unique position of experience. I own California’s third largest privately held landscape company. We employ 1,100 in the field of commercial landscape maintenance and construction and in our fleet of hundreds of trucks we must have 500 mowers and thousands of weed eaters, blowers, chainsaws, and everything else powered by those loud, obnoxious, smoky polluting gas and oil mix two-stroke engines! I can’t wait to get rid of them all, and in truth we’ve already started… 

Landscapers and homeowners use small gasoline engine equipment only because that’s what’s been available and that’s what has long worked for these specific types of work. And we’ll all continue to use these noisy, polluting things — until something better comes along. And finally, it has. Embrace the age of efficient battery-powered gardening and construction tools! 

Homeowners and professionals alike have long enjoyed the advantages of battery-powered drills, saws, sanders, vacuums, and all manner of household tools. The battery revolution has moved outdoors. It’s an easy and logical extension of battery-powered everything else, and it would be quite odd if gardening equipment didn’t follow suit. The switch to battery-powered gardening tools is just technical progress. And the SORE law, AB 1346, gives progress a push, like laws that promoted LED lights and electric cars. 

I’m eager to see this change because that’s what our customers want. No one is happy with the loud screeching of blowers and weed eaters outside their windows and all the way down the block. Otherwise quiet neighborhoods sound like weekend war zones with the constant screaming of those darn two-stroke engines. And fumes waft all around with that obnoxious smell of burning two-stroke oil and gas – fumes we know must be terrible on our lungs. In truth, all combined, all that small engine gardening equipment emits more pollution than passenger cars in California!  

In the past we’ve suffered these loud, dirty tools because that’s only what was available. Now, that’s changing. 

Our company already has routes fully set up with electric gear for servicing banks and senior centers – areas where loud gas engine noise is particularly unwanted. All these customers hear when we’re on their property is a quiet “whoosh” of silent motors spinning blades. Customers and homeowners truly prefer the quiet and clean of electric gardening equipment.  

Giant companies like Stihl and Husqvarna already sell commercially viable battery-powered gardening gear. Mowers, weed eaters, blowers, everything. True, today this gear costs more than gas-powered equivalents. And batteries only last half a business day. But electric equipment is far more reliable, and eliminates expensive refueling, service, repairs and breakdowns. Important for commercial companies, battery equipment is far safer for hearing, lungs and our shared environment. As more manufacturers gear up, by 2024 electric gardening equipment will be price- and performance-competitive and even superior. You can’t stop progress. All that handwringing about cost and short service intervals? All wrong. 

There’s nothing new about laws requiring positive change like this. The AQMD outlawed old, smoky diesel trucks and no longer are you stuck following a billowing truck up the 405. We outlawed lead in gasoline and removed a terribly dangerous pollutant. Ditching obnoxiously loud and heavily polluting gas-powered gardening equipment is simply one more big step toward cleaner air and improved quality of life in our neighborhoods, for all of us. 

Cord drills quickly lost out to more convenient battery-powered hand tools. Super-efficient LEDs are here to stay as few want to go back to hot, inefficient, forever-burning-out incandescent bulbs. This time, say goodbye to screaming blowers and mowers!  

A first rule of business is to give customers what they want. And everyone prefers clean and quiet over smoky and obnoxiously ear-piercing loud devices. Indeed, companies first switching to electric will quickly garner business as HOAs and estates demand the peace and quiet of all-electric outdoor gardening equipment.  

As a large employer, I’m looking forward to the enhanced safety of battery-powered gear. As a for-profit business, I can’t wait to lose all the gas, oil and repair costs of using gas-powered everything. 

Is AB1346 a government overreach? No. California is just being California – embracing the obvious future. As you laze your Saturday mornings undisturbed, sipping your coffee or tea, you’ll quickly appreciate hearing birds and bees instead of that constant screeching currently messing up your otherwise peaceful outdoor experience. 

AB1346 sounds like perfect sense to me. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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