As electric cars become an increasingly common sight on Colorado’s roads, the state is ready to target a chunk of the transportation sector that has thus far largely escaped electrification — the thousands of buses, trucks and delivery vehicles that belch greenhouse gases into the air daily and exacerbate ground-level ozone.
Colorado’s Clean Truck Strategy, a draft version of which was unveiled this week, targets medium and heavy-duty vehicles — from school buses to 18-wheel diesel-fueled tractor-trailer rigs — that the state claims contribute 22% of the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
“We’re getting ready to start investing before the end of the year in clean fleet incentives and infrastructure,” Colorado Energy Office Executive Director Will Toor said Thursday.
Changes to Colorado’s existing big vehicle fleets won’t be immediate, as battery technology and even hydrogen fuel technology still need to advance to a stage where performance improves and costs come down. There’s also the matter of expanding the state’s charging infrastructure so that long-haul truckers don’t fear being marooned in some out-of-the-way town without a jolt.
But Kay Kelly, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s chief of innovative mobility, said the state is “very well positioned compared to other states” to land millions of dollars in federal and state grants to help it make the transition to zero-emission trucks and buses.
She said electric medium and heavy-duty vehicles are “in various stages of product availability,” with buses and delivery vans leading the way. Just last month, officials in Boulder revealed the first electric compost collection truck in the country, a Mack LR Electric operated by Eco-Cycle.
And last April, according to a story from the Colorado Sun, the first Amazon deliveries using new Rivian electric vans were made in Denver, one of 16 U.S. locations the online retailer planned to deploy electric vehicles on its routes.
“We do think it’s going to be several years, probably out to 2030, before we have electric big rigs,” Kelly said.
The Clean Truck Strategy will utilize several strategies to get rid of old, dirty trucks and replace them with electric vehicles, including providing incentives to purchase vehicles, investing in charging infrastructure, requiring a certain percentage of trucks sold in the state be zero-emission, and providing technical assistance for fleets.
Rule-making could begin by the end of 2022.
And while it may be a while before electric trucks reach upfront price parity with their conventional counterparts, Kelly said they will immediately offer cost savings to a fleet owner because they have fewer moving parts and maintenance needs.
“The cost of fleets are going to go down on the operation and maintenance side,” she said.
Gregory Fulton, president and CEO of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, said his industry is working with the state on rolling out the initiative. But it won’t be easy, he said.
“I think we want to do everything we can to incentivize zero-emission vehicles, but I think where we’re concerned is setting forth possible mandates where we don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Fulton said. “You want to have certainty — and this adds another dimension of uncertainty.”
That’s particularly true, he said, in the wake of the pandemic and the impacts it has had on the global supply chain. Some fleet managers, he said, are still waiting on orders for conventional big-rig tractors, which have been delayed due to shipping constraints.
Rules establishing a mandatory threshold of clean trucks in a fleet could be a deal-breaker, especially for small trucking companies in Colorado that operate on thinner profit margins, Fulton said.
“We don’t need additional shocks to the system,” he said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all industry.”
Travis Madsen, transportation program director for the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, said the Clean Truck Strategy will likely follow the contours of the zero-emission standard that Colorado air commissioners approved in 2019, requiring that at least 5% of automakers’ vehicles available for sale by 2023 be electric.
Last November, electric vehicle registrations eclipsed 10% of all new Colorado vehicle registrations for the first time.
“This is the next big thing in vehicle electrification,” Madsen said. “They will save us money, improve our health and help protect our environment.”
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