MINNEAPOLIS - Xcel Energy and a coalition of its customers have been selected to be among the first in the country to receive the all-electric Ford Transit Connect Electric commercial van, a collaborative effort between Ford Motor Company and Azure Dynamics Corp.

Azure Dynamics Corp., a hybrid electric and electric power train provider, has named the U.S. electricity and natural gas company to its "Lead Customer" program to receive a total of 13 vans. An initial van will be delivered in late 2010, with the remaining 12 vans scheduled for delivery in 2011.

Xcel Energy will also provide $20,000 grants from its Chairman's Fund to support the purchase of 11 additional Ford Transit Connect Electric vans for its project partners. These partners will agree to invest the remaining cost to take delivery of each van.

The Chairman's Fund is provided through Xcel Energy shareholders, and supports innovative community projects that advance, demonstrate or promote clean energy technologies. Xcel Energy will help fund the vehicles for a number of municipalities, government agencies, and businesses that wish to purchase the vehicles and demonstrate the technology.

The City of Saint Paul, Minn., is expected to receive the first pre-production Ford Transit Connect Electric in late 2010. The company is finalizing agreements with others eligible to participate, including the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County in Minnesota and the City of Denver in Colorado. All vehicles will be delivered by year-end 2011, according to Ford. Xcel Energy is also providing technical support and some electric distribution infrastructure to support the effort.

To create the Ford Transit Connect Electric, Azure Dynamics integrates its ForceDrive electric drive train into the body of a Ford Transit Connect. The Ford Transit Connect Electric utilizes an advanced lithium-ion battery from Johnson Controls-Saft to achieve a range of up to 80 miles on a single charge and is rechargeable using either a 240-volt or standard 120-volt outlet. Commercial vans generally return to a central location at the end of each driving cycle making for easy overnight recharging. Use of the vehicles will also reduce fuel and maintenance costs, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to Ford.