West Coast utilities launch study for I-5 EV infrastructure to move freight

A group of nine West Coast utilities and other municipal providers have faith that electric vehicle infrastructure isn’t just for cars or light trucks anymore.

Power providers who serve close to 45 million electric customers across the Pacific edge are banding together for a study look intently on developing EV infrastructure for heavy duty transport along the Interstate 5 corridor from San Diego to Seattle and beyond. The 1,300-mile route has long been an artery for the lifeblood of goods transportation from Mexico to Canada.

The West Coast Clean Transit Corridor Initiative, if fully realized, can clear those roads of greenhouse gas emissions if utilities can provide the correct mix of high-speed charging stations, generation capacity and assurances of long-range success, its planners contend. The group participating in the initiative launch Thursday included Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light.

“Regional partnerships are important,” said Caroline Choi, senior vice president of corporate affairs for SCE and its corporate parent, Edison International. “These efforts in our region are primarily for the short haul. . . to support long haul we need efforts coordinating across county and state lines.”

SCE already is engaged in pilot projects for EV infrastructure surrounding service territories including the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The utility has installed more than 1,000 charging stations and hopes to install another 4,000 more.

San Diego Gas & Electric, SMUD and Portland General Electric also have electric vehicle programs ongoing, as do some of the others. Creating a completely new, massive network of higher voltage, fast charging stations along I-5 is another matter altogether.

The group did not discuss any estimates on the overall costs of such an undertaking, nor even how much the study itself will cost. They do see it as achievable, however, considering the environmental expense of carbon emissions from the transportation sector as the unacceptable alternative.

“We live in one of the dirtiest air basins in the country,” said Bill Boyce, manager of electric transportation for SMUD. Sacramento is at the intersection of truck-heavy I-80 east-west and I-5 north-south.

“Reducing truck emissions is very important to us,” he noted. “We all need to electrify our portions in order for it be effective.”

The study going through this year will provide valuable information for utilities and freight companies nationwide, Boyce added.

SCE’s initial release publicizing the West Coast Clean Transit Corridor Initiative estimated that the transportation sector accounts for nearly 80 percent of the state’s air pollution and more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The other utilities participating from Oregon and California expressed similar environmental statistics.

California state leaders have passed rules requiring energy from 100 percent carbon-free sources by 2045. Washington hopes to get there even quicker, considering its high level of hydroelectric capacity. Portland, another hydro hotbed, hopes to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

Scott Bolton, senior vice president of regulatory affairs for Pacific Power, said his utility was the only one represented Thursday which serves customers in all three states. Many of their communities are economically challenged, so Bolton sees the infrastructure investment cleaning up I-5 as of potentially great benefit.

Pacific recently launched new programs focused on helping customers charge their EVs at places of work. Bolton pointed out that the West Coast plan must take the driver’s key concern into account.

“We want to make sure people can travel and feel confident they can use electric vehicles and avoid range anxiety,” he said.

The West Coast Clean Transit Corridor showed a map with markers for fast charging stations at many points along the I-5 route. Utility reps Thursday said those were for illustrative purposes and that the study will determine the needed spacing and density of high-level charging stations for long haul trucks.

How big and how fast will these stations for 18-wheelers be? Dave Robertson, vice president of public policy for Portland General Electric, said his utility announced a program this week to install overhead chargers for buses.

“Those are about 450 kW,” Robertson said. “For the long haulers, we’re talking maybe double that, or maybe 1 MW.”


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