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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023
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San Diego County’s Drive to Fuel Sustainability

Change is in the air – and on the roads.

 

While the price of gas is at an all-time high and there is a growing concern about air quality, climate sustainability, California is surging ahead nationally in terms of the number of electrified vehicles on the road.

Leading the EV charge locally, San Diego Gas & Electric, San Diego County’s provider of natural gas and electricity, is helping more fleet owners and operators transition to electric vehicles. The Sempra Energy subsidiary is driving the change through its new program – Power Your Drive for Fleets.

SDG&E; rolled out a large-scale event at Broadway Pier in downtown San Diego earlier this month (April 7) to spotlight the new program.

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Among the on-site EV vehicles on display: a prototype yellow-orange Thomas school bus, semi-trailers – even an EV garbage truck – from manufacturers including Volvo, Ford, Hyster, Rivian and Mack.

According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, California in 2020 had the highest number of EV registrations by state, with nearly 426,000 light-duty vehicles registered – about 42 percent of EVs nationwide.

A 2019 report by San Diego Association of Governments said the region is home to about 35,000 EVs, but that the number is expected to grow to more than 110,000 by 2025.

Statewide, California is aiming to have five million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030 – and 250,000 electric vehicle charging stations by 2025.

In addition to an ever-increasing number of hybrid and fully electric cars on the road, the deployment of electric vehicles for commercial fleets is also accelerating around the county – including shuttle buses; transit buses; medium- and heavy-duty trucks and vans; airport ground support equipment; transport refrigeration units; port equipment; and forklifts and other equipment.

Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) had one of its buses on display at the downtown event. In 2020, the MTS governing board approved a transition plan to convert its 800 buses to zero emissions to keep in line with state regulations requiring that public transit agencies transition to all-zero emission fleets by 2040.

Cracking the Nut

“We’re on the verge of electrifying a bunch of vehicles in the state of California,” said Lianna Rios, EV customer solutions manager with San Diego Gas & Electric. “It’s a real exciting time but there are a lot of tough challenges. We crack the nut when they ask, ‘Where do I start?’”

The program connects resources – including infrastructure and financial incentives – to on- and off-road vehicle fleets.

 

There are certain segments of businesses that have been mandated to transition their fleet, some sooner than others, Rios said, like the transit districts and the school districts. Others are just coming on board.

“My team of advisors can hand hold them and point them to the resources they need, the grant funding, and provide the infrastructure at no cost to customers if they meet all the requirements,” Rios said.

Companies liker Aladdin Airport Parking on Kettner Boulevard, have already taken part in SDG&E;’s program as well as government grants and incentives, investing in electric vehicles and reaping major benefits.

Mindful of the Footprint

Richard Abdala, senior manager at Aladdin, said the company, in its 35th year, has always been “mindful of the footprint that we make” and last year replaced all eight of its shuttle vehicles.

He said customers love the quiet, comfortable ride of the electric shuttles and that maintenance needs have been largely absent – but that wasn’t all.

“We used to get five miles on one gallon of gas, now we get five miles for one dollar,” Abdala said. “We expected to save 60 percent but our shuttles have cut our bill down 80 percent. For fuel, a typical month we would spend $15,000. We projected to spend about $4,000 or $5,000 but right now it’s only about $1,200. I can’t complain about it. Paying an electric bill instead of gas has been a great experience.”

Local school districts, including Grossmont Union High School District, are all moving in the same direction – switching out their fleet of buses from diesel to ZEVs.

Lindsay Danner, energy manager with the 102-year-old GUHSD, said that the last five or six years, the district has focused squarely on bringing its energy costs down.

The district’s 13 campuses have a 90 to 95 percent offset for solar, batteries to offset peak demand, LED lighting and other “low hanging fruit energy projects,” Danner said, but was looking for more ways to reduce energy use.

Its 67 diesel buses put about a million miles on the road last year, costing the district a half million dollars in diesel costs, she said.

At the same time GUHSD was looking to redo its transportation facility, it learned about grants and the SDG&E; program that would help it to start switching out the buses.

The electric buses aren’t cheap, costing about $400,000 apiece, about twice as much as a diesel-run bus, she said.

“The district has received about $5½ million in grants for anything from electric buses to chargers to infrastructure,” Danner said. “We will be receiving our first 17 buses in about a month. We have an additional 10 next year for our phase two.”

The San Diego County Airport Authority has backed the electrification of vehicles on the airport’s premises and sustainability is built into the core operations of the airport, said Chad Reese, environmental affairs manager with the group.

The airport’s 70 buses are already 100 percent run on alternative fuel. Reese said 33 on electricity, with the others on alternative fuels like propane and natural gas.

“It’s really amazing to see where the market has come in just the last few years in product offerings,” Reese said.

The airport group is actively implementing electrification for ground support equipment, much of it owned and operated by its more than 30 tenants and since last year, the electric ‘San Diego Flyer’ bus has given free shuttle service from the Old Town Transit Center to the airport, Reese said.

‘Five Big Moves’

The changes being made by MTS, school districts, the airport and companies like Aladdin are in line what SANDAG is pushing as part of its “Five Big Moves,” strategic plans that reimagine transportation in the county.

“Talking about SANDAG’s regional plan, transportation electrification is a theme through it,” said Susan Freedman, climate program manager with SANDAG. “We’ve made a lot of big, bold commitments in that plan for electrifying passenger vehicles as well as goods movement and supporting transit… We are looking to accelerate zero emissions collaboration.”

She said SANDAG and SDG&E; along with the city of San Diego and the county “are working on a regional strategy for everything from light duty to heavy duty… to accelerate that transition.”

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