California is getting serious about eliminating diesel trucks. The state approved a major spending package for clean transportation Thursday, providing $208 million in incentives for truck and bus fleets to go green. Another $190 million will go toward cleaning up freight operations.
This investment will continue to drive the market for new vehicle technologies, and put more ultra-clean and zero-emission trucks and buses into the communities throughout California that need them the most, said Mary D. Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board.
More than 602,000 heavy-duty diesel trucks operate in California, according to CARB.
Although those diesel trucks account for just 2.3 percent of all on-road vehicles in the state, they emit 56 percent of key smog-forming nitrogen oxides, or NOx, and 66 percent of the soot attributable to motor vehicles. The movement of goods through the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are largely to blame.
The new clean transportation funding package is almost double the dollar value of what was available last year. It also has a clear goal of speeding up clean technology adoption.
California has set an ambitious goal of reducing climate-changing gases 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. To do so, CARB says the state will need to double the rate at which it has been reducing such gases, most of which is emitted by the heavy-duty sector.
A major obstacle to doing so, however, has been cost. Zero-emissions buses and trucks, whether they are powered with batteries or with hydrogen fuel cells, come with a steep price premium that often doesn’t pencil out in operations costs for years.
Funded almost entirely with proceeds from California’s cap-and-trade program, the state’s new clean transportation funding plan makes $20 million in truck and bus incentives available as loans. There also is $188 million earmarked for zero-emission, hybrid and low-NOx trucks and buses that fall under the state’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Program, or HVIP, and are commercially available.
All California fleets — whether they are public or private, or operated by transit agencies, schools or airports — can participate, according to CARB spokeswoman Melanie Turner.
The clean transportation funding plan dovetails with California’s SB1 legislation passed this year. The wide-ranging transportation bill mandates that by 2020 trucks will need to have a 2010 or newer engine to be registered with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
The goal of the projects funded through CARB’s clean transportation plan is to showcase the potential of advanced technology vehicles to reduce emissions and demonstrate their cost savings, Turner said.
Eligible projects include on-road vehicles, such as yard trucks, delivery trucks, transport refrigeration units and drayage trucks, as well as off-road equipment, including cargo handlers, cranes, yard trucks and forklifts.
“Many of these technologies, like battery electric vehicles, have been around for decades, but reaching economies of scale, those require some initial assistance to really help accelerate that commercialization curve,” said Christina Wolfe, ports and transportation analyst with the Environmental Defense Fund.
Achieving full commercialization is a cycle. Following research and development, “there’s a demonstration phase, then there's more general market acceptance and then full-scale market adoption,” Wolfe said. “It really depends on things like getting early adopters to validate the benefits of technologies.”
Though $398 million in funding seems like a lot of money, it “probably is not enough,” she said.
“California is a great incubator and has put a lot of investment in these technologies,” Wolfe said. But “we need a long-term version to get these technologies from California to the rest of the country so these companies are successful.”