New bill will make it easier, cheaper to buy electric trucks and buses

By Michael Colvin and Lauren Navarro

A new bill making its way through the California Legislature has the potential to help accelerate the much-needed transition to electric vehicles.

The law, Senate Bill 372, would create state programs that help owners of medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses pay for the costs of replacing their diesel-fueled fleets with cleaner, zero-emissions alternatives.

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks create massive amounts of air pollution. This pollution deteriorates air quality and can exacerbate serious health problems for people who suffer from asthma and other respiratory conditions. The pollution is particularly bad along shipping routes and near warehouses, many of which are located in and around low-income communities. So replacing these vehicles with cleaner, zero-polluting versions will immediately improve outcomes for these vulnerable populations.

Along with cleaner air, zero-emission vehicles have economic benefits too. Zero-emission vehicles end up costing less than their diesel counterparts because of fuel savings and because they require less maintenance. But the higher up-front purchase price has often been a hindrance to widespread adoption.

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Historically, California has offered rebate programs to businesses that buy electric trucks and buses as a way to help offset the purchase costs. But the waiting list for these programs is long, and research indicates that many more options are required to address the wide range of needs and risks facing fleet owners. The bill allows these options to be combined or strategically stacked on top of each other to give more bang for the buck.

California has a diverse set of fleet owners, ranging from multi-billion dollar companies to small mom-and-pop shops. Transitioning these fleets should be straight forward and equitable, both for the communities who live in areas with high concentrations of diesel pollution, and for the business owners who manage these vehicles. Just as there are many types of home and business loans, there too should be many types of financing options for purchasing zero-emission vehicles.

This bill would help solve that problem by creating more innovative financing options to meet the diverse needs of different businesses and communities. In fact, the bill establishes a 75% target to deploy financing products into vulnerable communities that need them the most.

The bill could not come at a better time. There are more electric trucks and buses choices on the market today than ever before, and even more are set to hit the market over the next few years thanks to a recent manufacturing mandate. Additionally, a new proposal being considered by the California Air Resources Board could require fleets to transition to zero-emissions over time. Zero-emission vehicles often have large batteries, which can bring the potential of new support services to facilitate a zero emissions electric grid; this in turn brings additional customer benefits for investment in this infrastructure. Policymakers are starting to recognize the potential of these benefits and financing options for vehicles can help unlock that potential even faster.

Senate Bill 372 will bring innovative financing solutions to California and has received bipartisan support in committee. Its adoption will help ensure that the transition to the zero-emission vehicle future happens quickly, while making it more affordable and equitable for all.

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