EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: Bolthouse Farms Is Achieving Significant Emissions Reductions with Electric Terminal Tractors

June 25, 2020

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An ACT News Executive Interview with Nick Chase, Asset and Administration Manager, Bolthouse Farms, to learn how they are fostering cleaner air in Central California.

In California’s Central Valley, zero emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks are appearing on farms and at the facilities of major food processors. Agriculture and food processing are the largest industries in the region, and a major contributor to air pollution. In Kern County, Bolthouse Farms has established itself as an early adopter of electric terminal tractor technology and eventually plans to electrify 80% of its entire fleet.

This interview was conducted with Nick Chase on behalf of ACT News and Valley Fleet Support, as part of a webinar for Valley Fleet Support— a California Energy Commission funded fleet outreach project for the Central Valley. A recording of the full webinar is available online and fleets can get no-cost consulting support through the program by contacting the program’s hotline.

Nick shares some of the keys to his team’s success with the new electric terminal tractor technology that Bolthouse Farms is adding to their fleet.

ACT News: Tell us about how this electric terminal tractor project began and how you became involved.

The appeal of going electric was strong after we realized the potential cost savings.

Nick Chase: It was really out of necessity. Our fleet is aging, so there were some compliance issues that we knew we were going to be facing. The appeal of going electric was strong after we realized what some of the potential cost savings might be, as well as the potential for less downtime—that was a real driver for us to look at EV trucks. I got involved because I’m the asset manager. Partnering with the manufacturer, Orange EV, really helped us work through some of the challenges we thought we might face. That went really well for us. It made it painless for us to start on the path to electrification with their help. Today we already have five electric terminal tractors and we have three more in the budget for the next 12 months.

ACT News: Being first is not always easy, what were some of the obstacles in electrifying your fleet?

Nick Chase: One of our team’s biggest obstacles was trying to convince everyone, from our stakeholders to our maintenance department, about the capabilities of electric vehicles (EVs). In the beginning many still were not convinced, while others took a “wait and see” outlook. The team needed to be convinced that an electric terminal tractor could hold up in our harsh operating conditions. Fortunately, with all the savings and proven capabilities of the vehicles, now they are all convinced.

Another obstacle was the initial cost of purchasing an electric terminal tractor. Fortunately, the assistance provided from state funding helped us overcome this obstacle. There was no real secret to our success – we were able to take advantage of the funding programs that were out there.

Funding from HVIP and CORE reduced the cost so that it was only slightly higher than the purchase of a new diesel truck. These initial costs were quickly returned in the form of lower operating costs.

ACT News: What are some of the benefits that you have seen for the three trucks you have had in service the longest?

Nick Chase: There have been many benefits to incorporating electric terminal tractors into our fleet. We experienced significant emissions reductions per truck. Over a ten-year period, we can expect to see an overall reduction of 30 tons of NOx, 2.5 tons of HCs, 2 tons of Particulate Matter, and 45 tons of CO.

The electric terminal tractors had a 75% decrease in downtime over the two-year period.

We have also seen a significant reduction in downtime. The electric terminal tractors had a 75% decrease in downtime over the two-year period as compared to their diesel counterparts. The diesel vehicles needed about 522 hours in the shop, while the electric vehicles only needed 134 hours.

There was an 80% reduction in maintenance costs compared to the diesel counterparts: The diesel vehicles cost $3.93 per hour to maintain, while the electric vehicles only cost 78 cents per hour to maintain. There have been substantial annual fuel savings as well.

We have also seen advantages outside of the environmental benefits and cost savings. Our drivers prefer the reduced sound and higher comfort provided by the electric trucks. Driver use of these trucks has improved morale and benefited our employee retention. Additionally, incorporating electric vehicles into our fleet has improved our brand image. Especially for companies with “Farm” in their name, sustainability is an important component.

ACT News: What lessons have you learned regarding installing your charging infrastructure?

Nick Chase:  We are still in the process of learning. We consider the installation of the first three standard chargers a success. Our drivers have been excellent at keeping them plugged in at the appropriate times and not letting the battery drain below 50%. This extends the life of the batteries.

Charging the vehicles became a part of the driver’s daily routine.

One way we facilitated a smooth installation process was first by being smart about where we positioned our chargers. We knew we needed to address convenience and ease of access. Our chargers are located near the break/lunch area, so charging the vehicles easily became a part of the driver’s daily routine. Additionally, drivers voiced that they preferred the electric vehicles, so they were internally incentivized to keep them charged.

The second strategy that yielded a successful installation was recognizing the need to consider the layout of our operations to understand our electrical capacity early on. There were some locations within our facility that were at capacity and not ideally suited for charging installation. We identified locations with capacity and built the chargers into the production routine. Currently, we are working with PG&E on how to increase capacity, where needed.

For our two new fast charging systems, they have been placed in a higher production area of our facility, so we are looking forward to seeing what lessons we can learn there and continue to improve. We currently do not foresee any challenges to the installation of future chargers.

ACT News: In planning for the charging infrastructure, did you plan for your immediate needs or for three to five years out?

Nick Chase: With the capacity that we had, we were only planning for our immediate needs. We knew we could support more trucks beyond those first three, but our main concern was our immediate charging needs. We are currently working with PG&E’s EV Fleet program, which is helping us with our additional capacity needs. The program also gives us options as to where we can install the chargers to help drivers keep them fully charged.

ACT News: Are you utilizing California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program?

Nick Chase: We are in the beginning stages of taking advantage of this program. We are looking forward to the benefits of participating.

ACT News: What tools and services were most helpful to you when developing and implementing this project?

Nick Chase: We really viewed Orange EV as a partner throughout all this. They guided us through the process including walking us through available incentive programs, surveying our facilities, and identifying solutions to challenges.

We also utilized our on-hand resources such as our technicians and electric department, who helped us address everything needed to make this accomplishment possible.

ACT News: What final advice would you give to other asset managers in the Central Valley considering a transportation electrification project?

Nick Chase: First and foremost, I would say engage all the internal stakeholders up front. Let them know that you are working on EVs, listen to their concerns and try to address them as much as possible. You may not convince all of them, but a lot of things can be worked out up front, so they are at least comfortable with going down that path. Do your research on the manufacturer you choose. View them as a partner. They should want to be able to work with you, and get to know your operation. Coming out to see your operation beforehand will go a long way towards overcoming or eliminating many of the challenges you might otherwise face. And with your internal stakeholders, highlight the benefits to their department and how they will benefit as a manager. That will help a great deal as well.