Deep Savings Make Electric Buses and Microgrid a “No Brainer” for Transit Authority in California

April 10, 2020
Choosing electric buses powered by a microgrid was an easy decision for the Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA), which expects significant fuel savings, resilience and cleaner air from the project in the Los Angeles area.

Choosing electric buses powered by a microgrid was an easy decision for the Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA), which expects significant fuel savings, resilience and cleaner air from the project in the Los Angeles , Calif. area.

“This is a no brainer,” said Macy Neshati, executive director and CEO of AVTA, which provides local, commuter and dial-a-ride service to more than 450,000 residents in the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale. Residents in unincorporated portions of northern Los Angeles County are also served.

AVTA now operates 44 transit buses that are electrified, and plans to electrify another 30 commuter buses and add a microgrid that will provide 100% of the charging for buses. The microgrid will be housed at AVTA’s bus maintenance depot, he said. The buses will be charged when needed while they’re at sites located along routes, away from the depot, and those sites will have solar and batteries.

When the microgrid is complete, charging prices will drop significantly, he said. AVTA now pays Southern California Edison (SCE) and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) 13 cents/kWh for charging. That includes the utilities’ agreeing to wave “demand charges and onerous fees,” he said.

Under a new contract with Duke Energy, the price for charging buses at five sites that are located outside the main bus depot will be 9.5 cents/kWh. But when buses are being charged directly by the microgrid at the bus maintenance depot, prices could be as low as 4.5 cents/kWh, Neshati said.

No wheeling charges with microgrid

The extra 5 cents/kWh for the offsite charging stations is due to wheeling charges from the utilities, a fee to cover costs of moving power from a generation facility to the distribution lines. He noted that the wheeling charges don’t apply when buses are charged directly by the microgrid.

AVTA will also meet California’s low-carbon fuel standards, providing additional savings. “For electricity use for charging electric vehicles (EV), you get low carbon fuel standard credits,” he said.

The state’s low carbon fuel standards are designed to cut the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. The state developed the standards — which consider greenhouse gas emissions from extraction to combustion — to meet California’s climate bill. AVTA owns its credits, which can be sold.

“Everything is cheaper with electric buses,” Neshati said. To run the buses with diesel, the cost is $1.25 cents a mile. With electric, it’s 32 cents a mile.

The authority has signed a letter of intent with Duke Energy, which will provide turnkey services for the microgrid, with no upfront costs. PV production will be 24 million kWh/year, and the batteries will be sized to supply 22,910 kWh of storage, said Neshati.

Electric bus, photo courtesty of Antelope Valley Transit Authority

COVID-19 delays project

The COVID-19 crisis has slowed progress on the project. The agency is waiting to hear about whether it qualifies for credits through California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which provides rebates for advanced energy storage systems and other new and emerging distributed energy resources (DER). Deadlines for those credits have been pushed from the beginning of April to the end of April, said Neshati.

“The SGIP impacts the final price per kWh. We need to get that nailed down to finalize contracts,” Neshati said.

Also holding up the project are federal tests of the 30 electric commuter buses, which are like Greyhound buses, with high floors, reclining seats and storage bins. This type of bus has not yet been electrified, so tests are required.

“We are the first to use these buses as all-electric. No one has them in service anywhere; we have had to wait to go through the federal testing process.” The federal Department of Transportation must test the buses for durability.

The bus electrification project began in February 2016, when the AVTA Board of Directors voted to award a contract to manufacture electric buses over a five year period.

Photo Courtesy: Wood Mackenzie

If you are looking to understand how transit agencies are electrifying bus fleets and the opportunity for microgrids Wood Mackenzie recently produced a report called: “Electric bus charging infrastructure and microgrids” which features a case study on the Antelope Valley Transit Authority. To learn more click here.

The agency’s electric buses accumulated two million service miles by the end of 2019, reducing the use of 512,821 gallons of diesel fuel.

Given the “no brainer” advantages to electric buses and microgrids, Neshati can’t wait to overcome the delays and get the microgrid and new buses running.

“We were so close, but now it’s stalled out,” he said. “I’m an action guy and I’m frustrated.”

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

Facebook: Energy Efficiency Markets

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