PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Governor Gina Raimondo was joined by federal and state officials today as she got a first-hand look at the state's first zero-emission electric buses. The three buses, which are being leased by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), mark the beginning steps of an air quality improvement plan for Rhode Island that the Governor, RIPTA, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and other partner state agencies have committed to by funding the initiative with approximately $14.4 million in Volkswagen settlement funds. First announced by Raimondo in May, the plan includes the leasing and purchase of electric buses and the installation of a charging infrastructure in the state for private electric vehicles.
"This marks a major step toward a cleaner and greener future for Rhode Island," said Governor Raimondo. "We're removing aging diesel buses from our roadways and replacing them with clean, green buses to reduce harmful emissions that contribute to climate change and smog. These buses are part of our overall strategy to make smart investments in cutting-edge technology that drive economic growth while reducing our carbon footprint."
A 10-year plan to use the Volkswagen settlement funds is outlined in the state's Beneficiary Mitigation Plan (BMP) which seeks to substantially reduce tailpipe emissions in the state with a focus on areas identified as poor air quality areas where there is a higher threat to public health due to pollutants. DEM drafted the plan working with the Governor's Office, RIPTA, the Office of Energy Resources, and the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC). One of the keystones of the plan is to aggressively reduce diesel emissions in the state by earmarking $10 million of the Volkswagen settlement funds to help RIPTA begin replacing diesel buses with zero-emission electric ones.
"It's great to see Rhode Island and RIPTA investing in a cleaner energy future as it works replace and modernize its bus fleet. Upgrading to these new electric buses will improve both air quality and service. I was pleased to secure federal funds that will be helping RIPTA accelerate its progress toward a cleaner, zero-emissions energy future. I will continue working to support RIPTA's sustainability goals as it works to provide safe, clean, flexible transportation opportunities to all Rhode Islanders," said Senator Reed, the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD), who worked to increase RIPTA's 2018 formula funding to an estimated $41.3 million and to increase funding for competitive Low or No Emissions Bus program by nearly $30 million.
RIPTA recently accepted delivery of three, zero-emission electric buses manufactured by Proterra in California. The buses will be tested extensively and staff will be trained in the maintenance and charging of the vehicles before they are put in service, but today Governor Raimondo and other dignitaries and guests got to be aboard for trial runs.
"I'm glad to see RIPTA invest in these zero-emission electric buses to improve our state's air quality and cut down on our use of fossil fuels," said Senator Whitehouse. "Electric vehicles are quickly becoming a widespread mode of transportation and are a winning transition to a clean energy economy."
RIPTA will use what it learns from the leased electric buses to prepare for the purchase of 16 to 20 electric buses starting in 2021. These buses will replace aging diesel buses that need to be retired. When added to RIPTA's existing hybrid diesel electric buses (which combine diesel with battery power), this investment will give RIPTA a fleet that consists of about 36 percent and low and zero-emission vehicles. The state is allocating about $10 million of the Volkswagen settlement funds for RIPTA to acquire the electric buses.
"I commend Governor Raimondo and RIPTA for their forward-thinking plan to replace Rhode Island's diesel bus fleet with zero-emission electric vehicles," said Congressman James Langevin. "These buses will help improve Rhode Island's air quality while reducing our carbon footprint and I look forward to seeing them hit the roads."
"Volkswagen deceived the public while knowingly emitting larger quantities of pollutant than they were admitting to," said Congressman Cicilline. "These funds, which the EPA helped obtain, will be used to mitigate future emissions from our state's public transit system, and will help support better air quality while keeping Rhode Islanders healthier."
About $1.5 million of the settlement funds will be used to develop a network of fast-charging stations in Rhode Island for light-duty electric vehicles, including personal automobiles. This plan will add 15 to 30 charging stations around the I-95 corridor by the year 2020. There are currently eight public fast-charging stations in the state.
"The Volkswagen settlement funds have enabled us to move much more quickly in transitioning to electric buses and this is a win for the public, "said RIPTA CEO Scott Avedisian. "We are joining other forward-thinking transit authorities that are already employing this technology. We travel the state, and having a greener fleet is important to the neighborhoods we travel through - particularly urban areas with known air quality issues. Taking the bus rather than commuting alone in your car is good for the environment. Taking an electric bus is even better."
"Replacing diesel-powered buses with new all-electric zero-emission buses will reduce localized diesel pollutants in our near-road communities, and improve air quality and public health for all Rhode Islanders," said Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit, who chairs the RI Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council. "As these state-of-the-art electric buses traverse our roadways, they show Rhode Island's commitment to reducing harmful emissions that contribute to climate change and smog and to developing a clean and efficient transportation infrastructure. We're thrilled to welcome clean, cutting-edge bus technology to our public transit fleet! This is a meaningful step in the right direction."
There is Rhode Island manufacturing component to the new buses, with the structural bodies fabricated by TPI Composites Inc. of Warren. Brian M. Lucchesi, General Manager for TPI-New England said that since one of the company's primary focus points is renewable energy, it is "rewarding that we now have product that is being used to save energy and help the environment in the transit industry." Founded in Rhode Island 50 years ago, the company now has its headquarters in Arizona and besides Rhode Island, has divisions located elsewhere in the country and around the globe. TPI is the largest U.S.-based independent manufacturer of composite wind blades. "We are a growing leader of composite technology in Rhode Island," he said noting that the company is actively seeking job applicants here.
The State's commitment to improving air quality is underscored by aggressive goals that Governor Raimondo has set for clean energy and environmental efforts. This commitment has been supported by the State's Congressional Delegation. U.S. Senator Jack Reed recently announced an additional $1.5 million to help RIPTA with vehicle purchase, research, and workforce development costs associated with converting part of its fleet to electric buses.