The time has come for NYPSC to focus on charging infrastructure for trucks and buses

New York is at a crossroads. Our flagship climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, requires significant emissions reductions statewide. This puts every sector of our economy on the hook to deliver and position New York on a path to climate safety. To achieve the CLCPA’s goals, government agencies, communities and the private sector must work together to establish systems and solutions that reduce climate pollution, improve air quality and equity, and spark economic growth throughout the state.

The CLCPA’s vision cannot be achieved without tackling emissions from the transportation sector, the state’s second largest source of climate pollution and a significant contributor to local air pollution. New York policymakers have recognized this reality, but a transition to new types of vehicles can only be as successful as the infrastructure that powers them. And there, the New York Public Service Commission holds the key to success. That is why EDF, together with parties, has just filed a petition requesting that the Commission take steps to address the charging infrastructure needs of electric trucks and buses in the state.

The PSC is already making progress on clean energy statewide, as it continues to ensure renewables and storage come online, modernizes transmission planning, and ensures renewable energy can reach the downstate region. It has also recognized that its CLCPA obligations involve more than just implementing particular programs, but also generally making sure its decisions will not interfere with achieving climate goals or disproportionately burden disadvantaged communities.

The time has come for the PSC to focus on charging infrastructure for trucks and buses Click To Tweet

Transitioning New York’s trucks and buses from diesel engines to zero-emission motors represents a strong opportunity to clean our air because these vehicles are far dirtier than cars. While they represent only about 5% of the vehicles on New York roads, trucks and buses produce about a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions and around half of all nitrogen oxide and particulate matter of the state’s on-road vehicles. Eliminating their tailpipe emissions will be crucial for meeting the state’s climate goals and for improving air quality in the most vulnerable communities.

The PSC has created some important vehicle electrification programs, but trucks and buses require additional attention, and soon. The market for zero-emission trucks and buses is gaining momentum, and New York’s policymakers are increasingly recognizing this by requiring that the transition to zero-emission vehicles begin to scale up. In 2020, New York signed on to a multi-state memorandum of understanding calling for the transition to zero-emission trucks and buses. The state legislature, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Governor have also set specific targets for this sector, notably school buses. But the ability of New York fleets to operate these vehicles is uncertain due to the lack of charging infrastructure. To remedy this, the PSC needs to act soon, to align utility programs with the state’s emissions reduction and clean vehicle goals.

First, together with other relevant state agencies and electric utilities, the PSC needs to determine the amount of charging infrastructure needed to meet the state’s goals and require utilities to begin the process of forecasting, planning, and implementing programs that are scaled to meet those goals. Unfortunately, as of now, no such concerted effort to prepare the grid for truck and bus electrification at any scale is underway. The programs that do exist are not aligned with the needs of fleets, nor with New York’s zero-emission vehicle goals.

Second, the PSC must focus on the impacts vehicle electrification will have on the grid, and how these can be mitigated with tools like behind the meter solar and storage and efficient price signals. The grid of the future will need flexibility to optimize the use of renewables and contain costs, and vehicle charging as a low-cost source of flexibility can benefit all ratepayers. Using sound price signals to optimize vehicle-grid integration, truck and bus charging can mitigate peak demand, provide additional services the grid needs, and reduce power sector emissions. And, if properly compensated for these services, vehicle owners will see lower operating costs — making zero-emission trucks and buses more attractive to fleets and speeding the shift away from diesel fuel.

The transition to zero-emission trucks and buses is already underway in New York. The vehicles exist, they are rapidly becoming cost-competitive and the state is demanding their deployment. But building sufficient and appropriate charging infrastructure remains a critical hurdle to achieving state climate and equity goals. This will require work from state agencies, utilities, community groups, manufacturers and fleets. The PSC can – and must – take the lead in laying out ground rules for electric utilities to do their part.

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