Cut the gas to hack the grass and earn some cash

To reduce pollution, three agencies push for switch to electric or manual mowers

Admit it.

You love the feeling of power when you rev the engine, the speed of the wheels, the exhaust in your hair.

The way it transforms your lawn into a PGA-worthy putting green.

Oh, yeah, you love your mower.

But a partnership of agencies Portland General Electric, Metro and the state Department of Environmental Quality would like to cast some cold water on your love match.

That exhaust? Pollution, they say. Volatile organic compounds. Particulate, even.

In a perfect world, the agencies concede, they'd love to separate you from your SUV, which is a much bigger fish, pollutionwise. Maybe get you onto a nice shiny bicycle. But they have patience. They'll start small. They'll start with your beloved, gas-powered Toro.

But they're not going to confiscate it. No, they're going to romance you into surrendering it, to make it worth your while to see it their way.

Here's the deal: If you agree to part with your gas mower, they'll give you $50 toward the purchase of an electrically powered mower or 15 bucks toward a push mower.

Of course, there are a few procedural issues:

• Turn in your working gas mower to a local Metro recycling station (there's one at 6161 N.W. 61st Ave. in Portland, and one at 2001 Washington St. in Oregon City) and receive a validated coupon. Dead mowers are not accepted.

• Go shopping for a new mower either electric or manual and send the purchase receipt and the coupon to PGE. In a few weeks, you will receive your check.

But you shouldn't just do it for the money, they say. Or just for the environment É although mowers and other yard machines leaf blowers and weed whackers add significant filth to the air on those already high-pollution summer days.

No, do it for yourself. After all, gas-powered mowers stink, says PGE spokesman Mark Fryburg. And gas-powered motors often must be manhandled into starting, causing you to hurt your arm, while battery-powered mowers start with a simple turn of an ignition switch, he says. Fryburg might even have convinced himself.

'I am going to convert, but I haven't decided what I'm going to do. I'm thinking about a push mower,' he says.

So far, 147 Portland area residents have taken advantage of the trade-in program, which offers rebates for mowers purchased through June 30. Rebate money comes from $20,000 in joint Metro-PGE funding.

The Metro money comes from a federal grant aimed at reducing lawn waste (most electrically powered mowers come with a mulching feature). PGE's portion comes from a fund set aside for environmental programs.

There are some trade-offs to the trade-in program, the first being that battery-powered mowers are more expensive than gas-fueled machines: You can buy a basic gas mower for $140, but the cheapest battery-operated mower is about $450. There are plug-in models that run about $180, but the cords often need replacing after consumers run over them a few times, retailers say.

And then there's the poop-out factor: On longer lawns or moist grass, your battery-operated mower may need charging before you're finished.

Nevertheless, landscape aficionado Jerry Nothwang is already sold. The Southeast Portland resident turned in his gas mower six weeks ago and used his $50 rebate check toward a $450 battery mower.

He says he likes that it's good for the environment but likes even better that it's lightweight, 'doesn't jerk my arm off' when starting, and doesn't leak oil and gas everywhere.

He says he gets an hour's worth of mowing per charge and can store the mower on the wall in the garage when he's finished.

Of course, charging takes electricity, and electricity often takes dams and dams, environmentalists claim, cause salmon to die. So is this really a good trade-off?

'That's a totally legitimate concern,' says DEQ spokeswoman Nina DeConcini. 'And I'm not insensitive to the trade-off. But it doesn't take much power (to charge a mower) less than you would use for air conditioning.'