In the future, these trucks will be electric, baby.
In the future, these trucks will be electric, baby.
Photo: Getty

The West Coast is preparing for a future where giant diesel transport trucks go electric. Utilities and state agencies in California, Oregon, and Washington announced a plan to transform highway infrastructure that would speed the transition.

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Nine electric utilities and two agencies are behind the West Coast Clean Transit Corridor Initiative, which would help the states reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, the biggest contributor to carbon emissions in the U.S. Nearly a quarter of that comes from medium and heavy-duty trucks. That’s why these states have laid out the necessary steps to transform the shipping industry in a 185-page report released on Wednesday.

The report calls for electrifying main shipping routes across the region by installing charging stations for freight trucks. It’s projected to cost some $850 million in total. However, these types of infrastructure updates are a worthy investment as governments begin planning their economic recoveries from the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has created an urgency around green development that can spur economic growth and recovery.

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The plan is to ultimately create electric charging stations every 50 miles along Interstate 5, which runs from up the West Coast, by 2025. First, the states will build 27 stations for medium-duty vehicles, such as delivery vans. However, by 2030, 14 of these stations will be upgraded to also charge big rig trucks. Most of the stations will be in California, but Oregon will have five and Washington six. Other main highways are also part of the plan as well.

“The results of this study provide a roadmap for electric utilities in Washington, Oregon, and California to help electrify transportation in a coordinated fashion,” said Katie Sloan, director of eMobility and Building Electrification for Southern California Edison, a project sponsor, in a statement. “This study comes at a time when we believe major investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure will help significantly with economic recovery from covid-19 in our states.”

It’s an exciting vision for the West Coast. California became the first state to release standards for electric trucks this year, a step that will help the climate and public health. Diesel trucks are among the dirtiest vehicles on the road, and a study published last year found that nearly half of the global premature deaths from vehicle exhaust emissions in 2015 were due to diesel vehicles. 

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“Electrifying delivery, freight and other commercial transportation on I-5 and adjoining highways will help bring us closer to achieving clean energy and environmental goals, and will mean major health benefits to the communities near those highways,” Eva DeCesaro, senior product manager at Transportation Electrification for Pacific Power, said in a statement. “This is especially true for underserved communities that are disproportionately impacted by carbon pollution.”

What’ll prove most challenging about this ambition plan is adding these connections in rural parts of the region. That and, of course, securing the funding to make it happen. State, federal, and private programs must expand to provide funding for such electrification projects. The federal government is, at the moment, not much of a resource. The Trump administration failed to include any programs to fund electrification or vehicle efficiency in its first coronavirus relief package.

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However, states have taken the lead on climate action under President Donald Trump. State budgets are also hard up due to the coronavirus. But with the right partnerships and planning, West Coast states could very well succeed in this venture. Plus, the presidential election is only five months away, and a change in the White House could bring the dream of electrified freight and shipping closer.

Yessenia Funes is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children's books.

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