A plan to install electric truck charging stations up and down the West Coast

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Most of the attention on adopting electric vehicles is focused on passenger cars. California, for example, has set a goal to have at least 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the state’s highways by 2030.

But the called-for transition also includes trucks and big rigs and with that in mind, a coalition of electric utilities on the West Coast just released a study recommending the establishment of a network of charging stations for freight haulers and delivery trucks along Interstate 5 — from San Diego in the south to Washington’s border with Canada in the north.

In addition to 27 sites along the 1,300-mile I-5 corridor, the proposed road map would also include 41 charging locations on adjoining highways in California, Oregon and Washington.

Called the West Coast Transit Corridor Initiative, the plan proposes a phased approach that envisions installing 27 charging sites in 50-mile intervals for medium-duty electric vehicles such as delivery vans by 2025. Then, 14 of those 27 sites would expand to accommodate charging infrastructure for big rigs by 2030.

Given that the number of electric-powered trucks currently on the road is negligible, the plan is as ambitious as it is innovative.

“The purpose of the study is to really identify what we need now and get ahead of the curve so you can start the electric planning and get that in place to really support the major electrification that these (installations) will take,” said Bill Boyce, manager of electric transportation at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, one of the power companies taking part in the initiative.

If all of the components of the plan were put into place, the price would come to around $850 million over about 10 years, said Katie Sloan, director of eMobility and Building Electrification at Southern California Edison.

That’s a hefty price tag but proponents say the initiative would be a good investment.

“The really beneficial thing about transportation electrification is once you get mass adoption of electric vehicles, it helps you to use the grid more efficiently and rates can come down for all customers,” Sloan said. “So we see investment in EV infrastructure as a win-win-win. It’s good for jobs and the economy. It’s good for the environment and it can help lower overall costs for customers.”

But who would pay?

Sloan said funding would come from an “all-in approach” that would include utility customers and partnerships between automakers and governments on the federal, state and local levels.

California has set a goal of deriving 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. According to a separate study conducted by Edison, reaching the target would result in 900,000 medium-duty and 170,000 heavy-duty vehicles on the state’s roads. It would also lead to about 26 million passenger zero-emission passenger cars.

As a reference point, as of late February, there were just over 700,000 zero-emission vehicles in California.

The proposed network of truck charging sites spaced every 50 miles figures to be sufficient. Medium-duty electric trucks are projected to have an average range of 90-120 miles in the next five years and heavy-duty electric trucks on the road in the next 10 years are expected to have a range of between 230 and 325 miles.

Most utilities in California, Oregon and Washington have enough capacity in urban areas along I-5 to support interconnections but the study acknowledges capacity constraints in rural areas will be a challenge.

“I think it’s going to take a mobilization at a pretty significant scale,” said Eric Seilo, senior manager of eMobility Strategy and New Program Development at Southern California Edison. “But with that right mobilization and motivation, these time frames are doable.”

Although heavy-duty trucks make up only 5% of vehicles on U.S. roads, they account for 23% of all transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

In California, the transportation sector accounts for nearly 80% of the state’s air pollution and more than 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have shown that people living near truck traffic corridors — heavy with diesel particulates — have higher rates of asthma, lung and heart disease and bronchitis. People in poorer communities are more likely to live in those areas.

“Electric trucking provides part of the solution, with benefits like cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions in those communities,” Will Einstein of Washington’s Puget Sound Energy said during a conference call unveiling the road map.

Of the 27 proposed sites on I-5, 16 are in California, six in Washington and five in Oregon. Among the adjoining freeways included in the road map is Interstate 8, running from San Diego to the Arizona border.

Utilities across the West Coast have planned or already implemented programs to boost the transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to EVs.

San Diego Gas & Electric — one of the power companies that commissioned the I-5 study — last year received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission on a $107 million project to build 3,000 charging stations for medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

It’s estimated to add $4.57 per year on the bills of average residential customers who use 500 kilowatt-hours per month, starting in 2022. That works out to about 38 cents more per month.


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