Work should begin within the next 60 days on GreenPower Motor Company’s electric bus manufacturing plant here and the company hopes to begin providing the City of Porterville electric transit buses within 12 months.
On Thursday, the long-awaited announcement was made that the California Air Resources Board was awarding $9.5 million to Porterville to be a test city for an all-electric bus transit system. The money will pay for nine electric 40-passenger buses and 11 charging stations. GreenPower is donating a 10th bus.
In addition to the money, part of the grant is the city will provide $5-$6 million in in-kind services.
“The city will be maintaining the buses and doing all the reporting,” said City Manager John Lollis.
The grant is significant not only because of the money, but it puts Porterville on the green map of California. Porterville is the only test city and GreenPower is the exclusive builder of the buses for the pilot program.
The grant has been in the works for months. Last summer the city took its final steps in securing the grants, but its formal announcement was slow in coming.
Fraser Atkinson, chairman of GreenPower, said the company is close to beginning site work at its location on Airport Drive where the company purchased 9.3 acres.
“It’s good to get that across the finish line,” Atkinson said of the grant, adding they are nearly ready to begin Phase 1 of the construction which is the corporate office and 50,000 square feet of the modular assembly line. The plant will be constructed in three phases, basically end to beginning. Eventually, the U-shaped plant will cover 150,000 square feet and allow the company to build any of its buses or vans, including a double-decker, 100-passenger bus.
“There should be activity on that site sooner than later,” he said Wednesday. A groundbreaking will probably not be held until January.
Part of Phase 1 is the final assembly and that will allow the company to bring partially assembled buses to Porterville, finish assembly and then roll them off the assembly line here.
Right now, he said, they are just focusing on the first phase which will take about six months to build.
“Our objective is to do all the finishing work here. The more we can do here the better,” he said.
He added, building the plant is just one task. They also need to hire and train workers.
The grant, first reported by The Recorder in June, will test the durability and cost effectiveness of the 40-foot zero-emission buses on all nine of the city’s transit routes, including the route which takes riders to Eagle Mountain Casino.
Lollis said the charging stations will be located at the city’s corporation yard where the buses can be charged overnight, and also at the city transit center. Quick-charge stations will also be located around town and Lollis said there will be a charging station at the casino.
“We look forward to working with GreenPower in replacing our aging active-fleet to 100 percent electric buses that produce zero emissions,” stated Richard Tree, city transit manager. “Substantial grants like this one are driving the entire industry forward, and making all-electric the new norm in public transportation, while playing a significant role in accomplishing our mission to improve the environment in our community and the Valley.”
Lollis said the grant states the buses will be in operation by 2018.
“The objective is to have as much data in two years as possible,” said Lollis, including what will be the cost for electricity to charge the buses.
CARB’s award to the City of Porterville was one of only nine awards from the highly competitive Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Pilot Program. The grant award is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing clean-air benefits to California neighborhoods, with an emphasis on disadvantaged communities. California Climate Investments programs are funded by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund using proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade auctions.
Projects like the one in Porterville are intended to help accelerate technology commercialization by placing significant numbers of zero-emission and near zero-emission trucks and buses in clusters as well as installing the infrastructure necessary to support the project vehicles, said the company in a press release
“We are excited to be working with the City of Porterville on a system-wide deployment of our all-electric transit buses and charging infrastructure,” said Atkinson. “The Porterville project will serve as a model for other operators in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and across North America who are seeking to deploy not just a zero-emission vehicle, but a zero-emission solution.”