Laguna Contractors Go Electric

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Oligino Laux Construction’s Michael Laux stands with a diesel/electric hybrid model of the Caterpillar mini excavator. Clara Beard/LB Indy

When tackling steep hillside residential projects under tight conditions, Laguna Beach contractors’ equipment of choice is commonly a mini excavator.

The machines are traditionally diesel-powered, but a new electric addition has been a welcome change for construction workers, supervisors and nearby residents.

While working on a residential foundation and excavation project, Oligino Laux Construction President Michael Laux said the benefits of using electric technology have been positive. 

“It’s quiet. The neighbors love it,” Laux said. “We don’t smell diesel if we’re working in enclosed spaces, so we don’t have to worry about ventilation and the guys breathing fumes. It’s helpful on a construction site in that way too. We think it’s fantastic.”

Laux and Dave Munushian, president of S Jade Corporation and owner of the new electric Caterpillar Excavator 301, are test-driving the special tractor, which is just one of five models in the world. 

Munushian said Caterpillar has six different tractors of various sizes in development, all ranging around $90,000, and the company plans to release the final version of the electric tractor within another six months to a year.

“The big thing that the company is concerned with is the battery life,” Munushian said. “The engineers are monitoring this tractor while it’s on-site to see how they can increase battery life, depending on what we’re using, because the technology is so new. For example, they don’t know how much battery we use when we run a hydraulic breaker to break concrete. They have the satellite ability to tell me what we’re doing without me calling them. They know what this machine is doing at all times.”

The battery life on the Excavator 301 depends on the job, but generally, the tractor can run for six to eight hours on a full charge and has a second power source in case they need the equipment out in the field and can’t get access to power.

“Everything’s going electric and turning battery powered. They’re now talking about having semi trucks turn electric – I think this is the way of the world now,” Laux said.

The price difference between gas and electric is comparable, too. 

“As far as the Excavator 301 cost-effectiveness, they’re pretty parallel to diesel-powered machines,” Munushian said. “There isn’t a huge cost difference right now.”

There is one downside to the Caterpillar Excavator 301, however.

“You can’t forget to plug it in after a day on the job,” Laux laughed. 

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