Oregon's transportation future may be electric, but three key executives say much remains to be done before electric-powered trucks and buses are common on metro area roads.
Still, John O'Leary says, Portland has the right leadership to get them there.
"The ones who are leading will set the agenda," O'Leary said at a Westside Economic Alliance forum on Monday, Sept. 16. "This is where they will be defined — right here in this region, more so than anywhere else in the United States."
O'Leary is senior vice president and chief financial officer at Daimler Trucks North America, headquartered on Swan Island. Others on the panel at Embassy Suites in Hillsboro were Maria Pope, chief executive of Portland General Electric — Oregon's largest private utility — and Doug Kelsey, general manager of TriMet, the regional transit agency.
PGE has its own challenge in moving toward Oregon's legislated goal of its largest private utilities drawing 50% of their power from renewable sources by 2040. According to a three-year average (2014-16) by the Oregon Department of Energy, coal and natural gas still accounted for almost half the power used in the state, and hydropower — most of which does not count toward the 2040 goal — another 40%.
Pope said electric utilities will require partnerships to develop alternative sources to power transportation needs.
"We know you want clean energy," she said. "You want us to be leaders not only in changing our energy supply, but in partnering in other areas to change our economy."
The other impetus for change is climate change. According to the 2018 report of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, transportation accounted for 39% of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.
Transportation, which includes cars, accounted for 33% of Oregon's overall energy usage in the three-year average.
"We must tilt the playing field toward walking, biking and transit," Kelsey said.
TriMet now has five electric buses in service, including Route 62 in Beaverton, and expects delivery of three more this year. Kelsey said the agency expects to phase out its diesel-fueled fleet by 2040.
"We don't have it fully financed yet," he said. "But we are on our way."
Advantages of electric buses, he said, are minimal noise and air pollution — and that electric buses can be recharged at night during off-peak power demands. But Kelsey said there are still obstacles to greater use of electric buses, such as a shortage of workers trained to repair such buses, and issues of battery capacity and battery recycling. Batteries can be charged more quickly, but it also shortens their useful life.
Also, he said, "As we move to an electrified world, without electricity, the buses stop," whether it results from an unreliable grid or a cyber attack. "Resiliency is key."
Still, Kelsey said,TriMet is working on developing an electric version of an articulated bus, which consists of two rigid sections connected by a pivoting joint and bellows resembling an accordion. The capital cost of such a bus could be 25% to 30% of a current diesel bus, with almost the same life expectancy.
"Then we can accelerate to where we really want to go," he said.
PGE's Pope said the cost of electric power is less than diesel.
"If you can get the capital cost of the bus down, there is no question that the life cycle cost of a bus is an absolute winner," she said.
Meanwhile, Daimler Trucks North America — once known as Freightliner, and acquired by the German company Daimler in 1981 — produces 200,000 trucks annually. Most are made in the Carolinas and in Mexico. Diesel engines are made in Michigan.
Parent company Daimler AG is based in Germany, which has far more ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gases from 1990 levels. The United States had voluntary goals under the 2015 Paris climate-change accords, but President Donald Trump has moved to withdraw from them — although that process will not be complete until after the 2020 presidential election.
O'Leary said Daimler is phasing out diesel for its medium- and heavy-duty trucks and its school buses. He said one reason is changing tastes.
"Ten years ago, if you mentioned electric or anything like that, you drew a lot of laughter. They said we just want the truck to look macho and with much chrome as possible," he said.
"But now, they've had a reawakening, because of their customers, to project a different image. it gives us more of a business case to be able to go after that."
As an example, O'Leary said, major soft-drink brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are conscious of their consumers wanting them to be more environmentally friendly.
O'Leary said one change in public policy that would speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources for transportation is standardization of the emerging electric-vehicle industry. He said he would like to avoid what has happened with U.S. automakers, which face a set of federal pollution standards and a stricter set of standards for California, the most populous state. The Trump administration has moved against California, which has set its own standards for decades because of severe air pollution.
"All that does is add costs," O'Leary said of the competing standards. "Let's find out what the best practices are and then implement them. That will speed up things."
NOTE: Corrects route number of an electric bus and the number of electric buses coming to TriMet.
Beaverton, PGE agree to connect Public Safety Center system to PGE grid
Beaverton and Portland General Electric have agreed to connect the system that will power the future Public Safety Center with PGE's grid.
The system consists of solar panels, battery storage and a backup generator. The Public Safety Center, at the southwest corner of Allen and Hall boulevards, is scheduled to open in spring 2020 to house police and emergency management.
The solar panel and battery storage will also support year-round access to cleaner, more affordable power. Already a sustainability leader, the City of Beaverton recently signed on to Green Future Impact, a new solution from PGE that helps large commercial, municipal and industrial customers draw 100% of their electricity from new wind or solar renewable energy facilities. More than 25% of all Beaverton residents currently participate in a voluntary Green Future program offered by PGE.
"Beaverton's Public Safety Center is designed to meet the community's needs for years to come," Mayor Denny Doyle said. "We're proud to have this critical facility in our city and grateful for this partnership project with PGE, which further demonstrates our commitment to working together for a more sustainable and responsive community."
"PGE and Beaverton are united by a common purpose — building resilient, affordable and clean energy communities," said PGE President and CEO Maria Pope. "Mayor Doyle and the city of Beaverton are creating a valuable asset for the community, and it's a privilege to work together to build an energy solution that meets their bold resiliency and sustainability goals."
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