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Electric buses get a boost with new SoCal factory

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Proterra's new City of Industry facility is capable of building 400 buses a year and will service West Coast transit agencies

More than a third of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation — 50 percent if you factor in the refinery of the fossil fuels used to run them. But on Wednesday, a new battery electric bus factory opened its doors here in So Cal to help stem the tide.

"People competing for fossil fuel buses, they are either going to transform or die,” said California Governor Jerry Brown, one of several government officials who joined local business groups Wednesday to usher in the operation of a manufacturing facility capable of building 400 electric buses each year in its 100,000-square-foot space.

“Right now, we are witnessing the creative destruction of dirty buses by the invention and commercialization of clean buses,” said Brown, adding that “we want to help those dirty bus people transform.”

The California Energy Commission kicked in $3 million to get the Proterra factory off the ground and help it feed all-electric buses to West Coast transit agencies, including Foothill Transit, which has been operating electric buses since 2010 and plans to go all electric by 2030. Out of a current fleet of 350 buses, 17 are electric; another 13 are being built at the City of Industry factory and will go into service next month.

"For us, it's important to make this step to protect the environment, to make a sustainable way of transporting customers throughout our service area," said Doran Barnes, executive director of Foothill Transit, which serves 22 cities in the San Gabriel valley from downtown Los Angeles. "It's to be able to provide mobility and do it in a very clean way that has an air quality benefit and also has the benefit of getting people out of cars and into public transportation to improve the quality of life for our communities."

At an average cost of $750,000 per bus, Proterra's electric buses are priced at a premium compared with $470,000 for a bus that runs on natural gas or and $454,000 for a bus that runs on diesel. The advantage of electric buses is in the operation.

A recent study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found electric buses to be eight times more energy efficient than buses that run on natural gas. They also use 80 percent fewer spare parts.

"In the future, every mass transit vehicle in California and the U.S. and in most major cities in the world will be zero emissions," said Ryan Popple, CEO of Proterra, which has already sold more than 400 vehicles to 40 different municipal, university and commercial transit agencies in 20 states.

Soon, Proterra hopes to add the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to its list of customers. The LA DOT has said it plans to swap all of its 2,200 natural gas buses to electric by 2030.

According to Governor Jerry Brown, electric buses are a triple win. In addition to cleaning up local air pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they create jobs. The Proterra factory plans to employ 60 workers by the end of 2017 and 100 by the end of next year.

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