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November 17, 2020

California’s Move to 100% Zero-Emission Vehicles

We have witnessed first-hand the unpredictability of 2020. The twists and turns caused by the layering of the COVID-19 pandemic, devastating wildfires, and widespread social unrest have left us wondering what challenge could possibly be next. Our industry has faced enormous obstacles this year with the closure of the foodservice sector and schools. The loss of those markets, albeit temporarily, combined with the significant investment in personal protective equipment and new regulations, have put our industry on edge.

On September 23, the next challenge for California agriculture came into sharp focus. On that day, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new executive order in response to the massive wildfires consuming a record number of acres within the state. The first of its kind order calls for 100% of new passenger cars and trucks sold in California to be zero-emission by 2035. If this were not eye-opening enough, the order continues that all medium and heavy-duty new trucks sold in the state must be zero-emission by 2045. New drayage trucks and off-road vehicle equipment are also to be zero-emission by 2035.

The broad scope and lofty goals set by the executive order is breathtaking. California now has a goal of having every new vehicle sold in the state be completely zero-emission by 2045. The cost implications of this as well as the many potential unintended consequences cannot be overestimated. To be fair, the order does say that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) needs to take into consideration the issues of technological feasibility and cost-effectiveness during its rulemaking processes to implement the goals under the order.

WG will be taking a very active role throughout this rulemaking process to highlight exactly those two issues: technological feasibility and cost-effectiveness. Both categories need to be thoroughly vetted in order to understand the ability of our industry to attain the zero-emission goals in a manner that is realistically achievable. If we are still waiting on unproven technology that is prohibitively expensive, agricultural absolutely should not be held to the implementation dates of 2035 and 2045. That would be a total disservice to California growers, farmworkers, and the consumer.

There are also other remaining questions that are equally important to resolve. The first has to do with charging infrastructure. California will have to rapidly put into place charging stations throughout the state for passenger cars, trucks, and off-road equipment to “refuel”. How long will it take to recharge a produce truck? Will charging be fast enough that supply chains will continue to operate effectively and efficiently? What about the feasibility of putting charging stations out in fields? Food processing facilities, packing sheds, and other agricultural facilities are often located in very remote locations. Will there be ample time allowed for lining up the appropriate permits to get the new electrical infrastructure sited and placed by the local or regional utility? These are just a few of the many questions that we will be asking CARB in coming months.

The other outstanding question focuses on grid reliability. To have a reliable, cost-effective, and efficient zero-emission fleet, agriculture has to be able to rely on a stable electrical grid. Our current electrical grid is not reliable. We are continuing to have Public Safety Power Shutoffs due to wildfire concerns. California also experienced rolling blackouts this summer for the first time in about 20 years. The reasons why they occurred is being investigated. However, the fact that they occurred at all is the problem. It is not hard to imagine the complete chaos that would unfold if rolling blackouts occurred in the years 2035 and beyond. Our personal activities would be halted because we couldn’t charge our vehicles. Commerce would come to a standstill since trucks wouldn’t be able to recharge their batteries and complete the delivery of the goods and services that are vital to a functioning economy. Growers would also be impacted since they could not plant, manage, or harvest their crops with off-road agricultural equipment that cannot be charged.

These concerns are just a small subset that need to be addressed by CARB and other stakeholders as the rulemakings proceed to implement the governor’s order. WG will be a voice at the table to help ensure that any future decisions/mandates are implementable and will minimize additional harm to our industry.