Port of San Diego tenants win $5.9 million grant

July 19, 2016 GMT

The Port of San Diego is about to get a little bit cleaner and a lot quieter.

Under a $5.9 million grant awarded by the California Energy Commission (CEC), the San Diego Port Tenants Association announced Monday that seven of its partner tenants will receive all-electric forklifts and heavy-duty trucks that emit zero greenhouse gas emissions and run almost as quietly as golf carts.

“This is the first grant we’ve ever applied for, and it’s phenomenal to get such an award,” said Sharon Cloward, the president of the tenants association.

Under the terms of the deal, the CEC grant will be matched by $2.3 million from the seven waterfront businesses — shipyards, boatyards and cargo handlers — that will receive the vehicles.

Seven large trucks and three forklifts make up the package, which is funded through the CEC’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program.

By replacing the diesel-powered trucks with zero-emissions vehicles, the port’s environmental specialists estimate 950 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be eliminated over the lifetime of the machinery. That’s the equivalent of taking 200 passenger vehicles off the road.

The project ties into the Port of San Diego’s 2013 Climate Action Plan.

The forklifts and trucks are expected to be delivered in the next 12-18 months.

A fleet of demonstration vehicles was on display Monday morning, including a 10-wheeled semitruck that went on a spin around the Chula Vista campus at Marine Group Boat Works.

“They’re so quiet,” said Norene Riveroll, a lifelong resident of nearby Barrio Logan. “This is a big issue here in Barrio Logan, cutting back on the (greenhouse gas) emissions.”

Continental Maritime of San Diego, a contractor for the Navy, is scheduled to receive a 40,000-pound forklift, an all-electric behemoth the company hopes will replace one of its diesel forklifts.

“We were humbled when we asked to apply (for the grant) and ecstatic when we got it,” said Dewey Youngerman, a manager at Continental Maritime.

Youngerman said under the cost-sharing agreement, his company will pick up 20 percent of the costs associated with the forklift, which he anticipates receiving in November 2017.

Marine Group Boat Works is slated to test two medium-sized forklifts — one for its Chula Vista location and another for its site in National City.

Company President Todd Roberts hopes they’ll perform well enough to slash his company’s energy expenses.

“The whole idea is for us to put (the zero-emission forklifts) through their paces,” Roberts said. “My dream is to electrify all of our equipment and be done with it.”

The port tenants association worked in conjunction with the area’s investor-owned utility, San Diego Gas & Electric, which will study the charging patterns of the electric trucks to help maximize the use of renewable energy to power the vehicles.

“In San Diego, transportation accounts for over 54 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions locally,” said Mike Schneider, SDG&E vice president of operations, support and sustainability. “So our real focus is on de-carbonizing transportation in addition to how we’ve been de-carbonizing the grid with renewables.”

But is spending $5.9 million for electrified forklifts and semitrucks a good return on investment for taxpayers?

“We have a working-class port,” Cloward said. “We really want to keep those middle-class jobs for the benefit of everybody, so I think it not only benefits the tenants and the workers who are here, but it also benefits all the communities with the greenhouse gas reductions.”

Schneider acknowledged the $5.9 million price tag may be considered substantial by some, “but when you look at it in a grander scale, it really is the economics of cleaning the air for San Diego.”